The King County transportation committee held a public hearing last Monday on Metro’s proposed September 2012 service changes. Around thirty-five people spoke. Metro first proposed these changes last year, and in two rounds of public feedback it withdrew some proposals and adjusted others. STB reported on the evolution of these proposals, most recently on April 3rd.

The final list of proposed bus route changes, and how they differ from previous rounds, is in the Neighborhood information sheets at Metro’s Have Your Say website.

Interestingly, less than half of the speakers even mentioned the bus route changes. The rest spoke out against ending the Ride Free Area, and they said even more people would have signed up to speak about the RFA but they left when the registration lady told them it would be off-topic for this hearing. Two other people spoke about their dissatisfaction with ORCA cards.

I asked the Council to pass the package of changes, and to tell Metro it expects to see more extensive reorganizations next year. I praised the 18 and 50, which provide new crosstown service between Ballard and Fremont, and across West Seattle and Rainier Valley. I lamented the failure of the Queen Anne reorganization, which would have made the 13 frequent. I said that Metro needs the Council’s support for reorganizations, because when people speak up for the status quo, they’re often thinking only of themselves, while the people who would benefit from the reorganization often don’t realize it until it’s in operation, so they don’t know to speak up beforehand. I said the VA hospital driveway detour should be eliminated. However, I said the Fremont and Yesler-Jackson changes had less obvious benefit than the others, so it’s not as big an issue that they were withdrawn.

Of the other speakers, three or four spoke against the Queen Anne restructure; nobody besides me spoke for it. Two people objected to the minor restructuring of the 3N and 4N that did survive. (The 3N will be deleted and its service hours transferred to the 4N. One objection was the grade between the 3N’s tail and the nearest other bus routes. I walked around that area last summer when it was first proposed, and I thought the incline was mild.) A couple people said the 2N/2S and 13/2S should remain together because riders view them as one route and often travel from the CD to Queen Anne. One person said the 10/12 should remain together because otherwise the 12 will lose its only disability-accessible stop downtown. Two disabled people (one blind and the other in a wheelchair) urged the preservation of the 14S’s tail (on Mt Rainier Drive), saying they won’t be able to get around without it.

West Seattle reactions were positive, while Magnolia, Fremont, and Ballard reactions were mixed. One person said that putting the 5 on Dexter (which was withdrawn) would have improved connectivity between Queen Anne, Fremont, and the Zoo. Another person protested the loss of the 5-Northgate branch, saying it would hurt students and shoppers, and that the transfer stops were far away from each other. He suggested a minor change to the 18 as a compromise, making it run on N 85th and Greenwood rather than 15th NW and Holman Road. That would give Greenwood better access to Northgate, while Holman Road would still be served by RapidRide D. Two people agreed with me that the VA driveway detour has to go; nobody defended that detour.

A couple people complained about the loss of the 3:30am night owls for getting to early-morning jobs. One person suggested pushing the 2:15am trip to later, perhaps 3am.

As I said, only about fifteen people said anything for or against the September service changes. This suggests to me that people are satisfied enough with the final proposal that it’s no longer a big deal to them. Of course, the fact that opponents got their way when Metro withdrew several sections of it explains why they’re satisfied.

The RFA speakers all wanted the Ride Free Area to continue, and said it’s unconscionable to eliminate it, leaving the poor with no way to get around. Several of the speakers were homeless-advocates or social workers, so their appearance seemed to be a coordinated campaign. One person said that people in shelters in Pioneer Square need to get to social services in Belltown, and they need free transit, especially in bad weather, because they have to carry all their possessions with them (they can’t leave them at the shelter). Two people said a circulator shuttle would be OK as an alternative if it’s 15-minute frequent, and if it goes to Harborview hospital. (The current Ride Free Area does not include Harborview or First Hill.) One person said it should be a full-sized bus, not a van, so that it wouldn’t be stigmatized as “the homeless bus” and other people would be willing to ride it too.

Regarding the ORCA speakers, one person complained that the cards break too easily. She said it’s not her fault if the card is defective, and drivers shouldn’t give her static if her card is broken, and she shouldn’t have to pay a $5 replacement fee. Another said, to paraphrase, that ORCA should be canceled because it makes life more difficult, has no benefit, and was imposed on riders without them asking for it. Of course, ORCA fans will point out the benefits of inter-agency transfers and faster boarding. But a lot of poor and occasional riders never use anything but Metro, and speedy boarding seems less important to them than spending $5 for the card.

The transportation committee will discuss the service changes on Wednesday, April 25th, at 9:30am in the King County Council Chamber, on the 10th floor of the King County Courthouse. “Members of the public are welcome to attend and provide public testimony…. The committee is expected to refer the ordinance to the County Council for consideration and a final decision in May.”

48 Replies to “September Service Change Hearing Report”

  1. Let them have their circulator. Metro saves 2.2mil/yr, and does about 1/4mil in one time capital cost.
    The city will keep funding their 400k/yr cost, which gets them one van for 16 hours a day.
    Anyone want to guess how Metro will screw this no-brain up?
    PS, It’ll be the last route to get picked each shakeup – sorta like solitary confinement.

    1. Metro won’t really save $2.2 million. That’s how much they project fare revenue will go up. But getting rid of the RFA will cost twice as much in service hours downtown as it saves in eliminating PAYSTTE. They could actually eliminate most of that service hour cost if they could make the boarding/deboarding process downtown as smoothe as it is now, but that is not the plan.

      Let me put this bluntly: Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert are being set up in an attempt to blame them for eliminating the RFA, and having the transition fail. Oh, and they’re so cruel to the poor. Yeah, right.

      If the four Republicans and Julia Patterson got together, voted for a cash fare increase (or ORCA fare decrease), and ordered Metro to make the capital/personnel investments needed to keep all doors busy downtown during the boarding/deboarding process, the transition would work, and there would be a net savings in service hours that would dwarf the $2.2 million in extra fare revenue. I hope Council Member Patterson crosses the aisle and the five of them work as a team to make the Save of the Year for Metro.

      Of course, Executive Constantine could veto a cash fare increase. I think we could convince him not to do that.

    2. Nothing says the circulator would be folded into the regular pick – or that it wouldn’t be contracted out.

  2. I think the idea of the circulator going by Harborview makes a lot of sense. Having things like the Social Security office at 9th and Lenora and the Belltown DSHS office on 2nd on or near the route also makes sense to me (the DSHS office is also close to the services on 3rd between Virginia and Lenora). The could just do a one way loop that goes north on 3rd from at least the Court House to Virginia or Blanchard then east to Boren then from Boren to Broadway and Yesler with a loop to Harborview on the way. They could also extend it on the south side into Pioneer Square.

    1. Last I heard, the plan was for three circulator routes. If one route could create a one-seat ride that connects to all the agencies, that would be a big improvement over the current situation of having to do transfers to get between. (And while we’re at it, I hope the hours get extended beyond those of the RFA, as people need to get to shelter at night, and have medical appointments (especially dialysis) 24/7.

      I’d also argue for smaller buses for the following reasons:
      1. Branding. See that orange van? It’s the free downtown area circulator shuttle!
      2. Frequency. Larger buses make lower frequency easier.
      3. Congestion. There will be stops on 3rd. It will be politically easier to keep the Free Orange Shuttle if it doesn’t take up too much of the box and slow other buses down.
      4. Operator cost. With big buses, Metro would have to operate the shuttle. With smaller buses, the DSA, or some other entity, could operate the Free Orange Shuttle service. I certainly hope the operator is union, but paying someone articulated wages to drive a van makes no sense.
      5. Mobility device capacity. A larger percentage of the floor space on vans is set up for mobility devices, compared to the proportional space on the big buses. Looking at it another way, the likely mobility-devices-per-hour capacity would be higher with more vans instead of fewer buses.

      1. If we want our $2.2 million of increased fare revenue to actually happen, we need to go out of our way to stigmatize the free circulator shuttle as a service for the poor, so that anyone who isn’t poor will take a regular bus and pay the regular fare.

      2. Leave that to the right-wing floggers. They don’t know that the inebriates they so screach about are not the service-seeking people who will be boarding the circulator.

        If you want stigma, just keep quiet. Those who use the circulator will notice it isn’t full of drunkards.

    2. I think that a Blanchard to Westlake to Denny to Boren path might be a pretty awkward transit addition during those times of the day when traffic is already dicey around around that area.

    3. Social Security is consolidating its offices into the Jackson Federal Building. I think they’re moving in a few weeks.

      1. So a homeless person will have to haul all their personal belongings through the metal detector? Nice.

  3. Peak hour cash fares should be $7. I lose 45 minutes a week to people fumbling with change.

      1. Round-dollar fares would be a timesaver in and of themselves. When the fare is $3.25, riders fumble cash out of their billfold and change out of their coinpouch. Getting the fare to a round dollar would at least reduce the problem to fumbling from one compartment.

    1. Getting people to stop clogging the front door on RapidRide to pay with ORCA cards when a curb reader is present would also help as it would free up the fare box for cash fumblers. That, and encouraging people to use all three doors. You’d be amazed at the amount of time I sit and watch a group of folks stream onto the back door while the other two doors are free. (Yes, Crossroadians, I’m talking to you)

      That gripe aside, RapidRide is far more tolerable than listening to the (Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…) of the ORCA reader on the 550. More off-bus payment, round up cash fares to the nearest $1, kill the $1 bill and the penny, and encourage people to get their payment out *before* the door opens… Add all that together and you’d be surprised at how much more efficient bus service would be in our area.

      1. With several off-board readers covered, and the attempt to get all payments to be at the front door during non-RFA hours, I can’t blame riders for being as confused about the RapidRide payment system as they are about the rules on the regular buses.

        But then, lots of operators haven’t gotten the rules right.

        I hope there is a uniform system 24/7, with all-hours fare enforcement, starting in September.

      2. Swift generally has 10 second dwell times, sometimes 8 or 9. sometimes it takes a minute for a mobility device. But nobody ever fumbles with change. Ever. It’s harsh, but effective. Longer dwells would increase the cycle and require a couple million dollars more equipment and ~ 7 extra drivers to run the route. “Fare Ambassadors” are cheaper than drivers.

      3. I really don’t care for the different rules after 7pm thing – even if you can remember the rule, it only takes one driver to forget and create confusion. I tell people who show me their transfers that they don’t have to. Many reply that “the other driver” asked for it. I have no idea whether the other driver is not used to RapidRide or if the customer is confused with the pay up front after 7pm thing.

        Still, for those that get it, it speeds boarding up. Not perfect, but an improvement.

  4. Thanks for attending the hearing, speaking, and writing this report, Mike!

    You give me hope we can sock it the VA and their callous disregard for the time of bus riders.

  5. I ride route 133 and some people (especially UW students) are outraged that their one-seat ride is being eliminated. The last trip in the morning (which is operated by a D40LF) is packed to standing-room only as it leaves Olson/Myers P&R. I still think it’s unfair that it’s being cut.

    1. Standing room only doesn’t mean a bus is “packed”.

      That said, eliminating a somewhat-full route that bypasses downtown doesn’t make sense at this time. It would in 2016, but we’re not there yet.

    2. Might be too late to protest now. A lot of the neighborhoods that kept their service (or at least delayed changes) organized pretty early in the process.

  6. Well, it unanimous. ORCA transition, seamless fare integration among all agencies and services, common operating practices, common rider rules for when and how to pay, simplified routings, bus stop spacing, route numbering, discounts for electronic payments, signal priority for transit, consistent enforcement of right of way laws, zero tolerance for fare evasion, and common electronic information systems are all pretty much a tangle of spaghetti.
    With that said, a smooth elimination of the RFA is doomed.

    1. I’d put up with a 1-year delay in eliminating the RFA if we could get a fare differential passed.

  7. Two speakers before me was somebody who made a lot of pro-transit points, and went through a large number of routes that are being improved or would have been improved. He was clearly a dedicated transit advocate so I wondered, is he here in STB?

    1. Maybe Bruce Nourish? One of the few people I would allow to be the transit czar for the Puget Sound region (if such a position were created).

  8. Wondering why nobody is pushing for the elimination of paper transfers as other agencies have done?

    1. Plenty have pushed here for the elimination of paper transfers. That dead horse isn’t moving any time soon.

      Metro’s reasoning remains that it helps drive opposition to transfers. Oddly, I have yet to hear a single one-seat-ride insistor bring up the topic of paper transfers vs. ORCA transfers.

      1. If ORCA were as cheap (a.k.a. free) and easy to get (practically every station, among other places) as London’s Oystercard, nobody would care about forcing everyone to use ORCA.

        But apparently it isn’t. I wonder if anyone in Seattle ever actually looks at “best practices” elsewhere. LA and SF certainly didn’t, with their incompetent “TAP card” and “Clipper card” deployments.

      2. Oyster Cards cost the equivalent of $10 and it’s taken nearly ten years for them to become ubiquitous. The Oyster Card system had plenty of it’s own problems in the early years.

  9. I believe that the elimination of the Ride Free Area will be a big winner for PAYING Metro users. I believe that the loss in time for those boarding in Downtown Seattle will be made up by keeping the drunks and riff raff off the system. Let the human garbage ride the “free circulator” shuttles. Let the fare paying public ride Metro. Heck with slowing down Metro to let the drunks ride free. I believe this will speed Metro up. Crap, I have been on too many buses listening to some drunk ramble on to the bus driver about utter BS. Let the fare paying public ramble on to the bus driver. At least they are paying the darn fare.

    This elimination of the RFA and thus, slowing down Metro is utter nonsense. I don’t care what door you enter from, exit from. Let the riff-raff board the circulators.

    Try it out. You might be surprised. Fewer stops downtown for bums just might equal faster boardings and departures.

    1. Two words: Night Owl. Eliminating the RFA won’t keep the folks you describe from riding – and riding all night long.

      1. Yes. But boardings during rush hour and day-light hours should drop. They can ride all they want. As long as they “join the club” and pay the dang fare.

    2. “utter BS”

      I get it that you don’t like having people you don’t like to be around on the bus, but that has nothing at all to do with how fast the buses move.

      1. We all wish that weren’t the case, but it is.

        I’ve missed more lights than I can possibly count because of some drunk who can’t tell the door from his own elbow yelling at a driver to wait for him to stumble aboard.

      2. Drive downtown for Metro for a few years, then say “utter BS” with a straight face. Worst route for that = Harborview
        Been there, done that.

      3. Ask the drunk that hung onto my farebox while he took about a minute piss. I was pointed uphill, so you can do the math.
        (gotta love pay as you leave)
        Oh, and he didn’t have the fare, either!

    3. “Fewer stops downtown for bums just might equal faster boardings and departures”

      In my experience, it’s tourists and infrequent riders that slow service the most. The “bums”, as you describe, tend to board quickly so they can tell me their latest story which usually involves a DUI conviction. Hey, I’m just happy they aren’t behind the wheel any more…

      1. I do think it’s going to help. I notice a difference after 7pm currently.

        For total time delays I would agree with VeloBusDriver that tourists and infrequent riders really are more responsible than the “riff raff” – I dread the summer on the 16 when groups of tourists headed to the Space Needle seem surprised that payment is required and then can’t seem to do the math to figure out what they owe. We really do need a tourist pass.

        The challenge with the “riff raff” is that they can be disruptive both on entering and leaving and are more likely to diminish the bus riding experience for others (smell, crazy talk, violence).

  10. Enjoy the blog and the transit enthusiasm, but it is a bit of an echo chamber, isn’t it? I’m one of the unhappy luddites whose ride to work for 25 years is on the Metro chopping block: 3N. Two things: Metro’s logic for axing 3N while retaining 4N is faulty: “improve reliability and spacing” of east Queen Anne service. Don’t think so. But you chaps are (were) really excited about the prospect of redirecting 3N to SPU. Would you kindly direct me to the explanation for why that would be the most wonderful change Metro could make? Didn’t like that idea, myself, but I never found a compelling reason for it either. See you on the bus!

    1. The most wonderful change would be a frequent 13. That would provide sane frequent service to the most central, densest, and most commercial street on upper Queen Anne, rather than having two half-hourly buses going opposite directions to downtown (13 and 4), and a third bus six blocks away (2). Schizophrenic routing means almost everyone has to time their trips to half-hour pulses even though eight buses per hour are heading downtown.

      If, in the reorganization scenario, the 13 is the main route and the 3 is the secondary route, the 3 is justified on Taylor and Boston to Queen Anne Ave because it serves a steep side of the hill. The question then becomes, what should it do when it gets to QA/Boston? It should not go down to Blaine as the surviving 4N is unfortunately doing, because that’s only three flat blocks from Boston, and it makes the routing on Queen Anne Ave schizophrenic. So it could terminate at QA/Boston, or it could go a little further to SPU. North Queen Anne and SPU have never had frequent transit, so it makes sense to overserve it a bit if it doesn’t cost too much. It also allows service to be reduced on Nickerson and Westlake, which was part of the calculation.

  11. I admit to being Queen Anne-centric but do appreciate SPU-centric folks’ interest in good service to the QA CBD. Then you mention (continuing) service to downtown but are frustrated that those trips are split between two routes that dosido at QA Av & Boston, and then again at 3rd Av downtown (leaving out the #2 for now). So yours is a frequency over bus stop proximity argument when we’re told we can’t have both. Frequency has merit, sure, but what’s the matter with timing your trip “to half-hour pulses,” say, outside of rush hours? Isn’t Metro going to have the fleet fitted with GPS sometime—soon, giving us the certainty and convenience of catching the bus at a nearby stop, when it’s dark, windy, rainy, and 38-degrees outside? You might say, “Why sweat the GPS look-up and the whole printed schedules hassle when, with frequency, you could just go the nearest stop knowing the next bus is no more than 7-1/2 minutes away”? Guess I would answer that that sounds kind of wasteful, because I don’t consider the GPS-schedules thing that much of an inconvenience. I also think a future budget-squeezing KC Council would consider adjustments to a high frequency bus headway as low-hanging fruit: “Our current budget realities no longer permit us to continue to fund bus service at 7-1/2-minutes on-center, and we think our riders will not mind, so much, having the bus come by at 12-minute intervals, instead.”

    By schizophrenic I assume you mean the #4 goes north on QA Av enroute to downtown, which is to the south. I’m a 3N advocate more than 4N so I won’t argue. As for SPU, I don’t think overserving it henceforth makes up for a history of underserving that area. The #13 is a relative newcomer to Metro, not that that diminishes its importance, but I’m certainly not persuaded that the SPU-bound should both keep the 13 and wrench the 3N from us existing users. You mentioned elsewhere that you found the 3N loop topography to be pretty mild. Check out the topo north of W Raye St. You better have a serious granny-gear on your 2-wheeler if you intend to mount that incline. Mike, you give the distinct impression that you live very near SPU, and have your own SPU-centric ox to gore. Could that be so?

    1. My experiences with Queen Anne are (1) a friend who lived at the 2’s terminus, (2) a job that was in a house near Boston Street, (3) occasional shopping on upper QA, (4) thoughts about living there but the half-hourly buses dissuaded me, (5) the buses are also a deterrent to shopping/eating on upper QA. I have never been to SPU, although my dad’s memorial was at Bleitz Funeral Home next to it.

      More frequency and a simpler schedule means more ridership, because people make borderline decisions based on how convenient the service is. People say, “I’ll take the bus if I know it’s coming in ten minutes, but not if I may have to wait 20 minutes or look up the schedule or call OBA.” They’re also thinking about whether they’ll have to time their return trip. And if they’re transferring, they can’t control when their first bus will arrive at the transfer stop.

      Ideally trunk routes like the 13 would run every 5 minutes, but that’s a huge step for Metro so we have to start with 15 minutes until 6pm Mon-Sat, then 15 minutes until 10pm Mon-Sun, then 10 minutes (like Link).

      The 13 may be a newer route but it’s better thought-out than the 2, 3, or 4 given current land-use. (Historic land-use was more mixed.) The 13 runs straight, through the center of the neighborhood and through the densest, most commercial/multifamily area. I would be happy to keep the 2 and as-is and fold the 4 into the current 3, as long as the 13 is made frequent, but Metro has limited service hours so we have to prioritize.

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