Photo courtesy zargoman

This is an open thread.

54 Replies to “News Roundup: Unorthodox Tactics”

  1. Common complaint I hear on LINK trains going south to the Airport: “I wish somebody had told us about this when we came in!”

    I keep thinking how great it would be if every ticket to Seattle could include a little packet with full LINK information, and an ORCA card loaded with a day-pass.

    Would settle for the information, the ORCA card, and an all-system day-pass available to buy.

    Given current pressures on staff, how about making LINK paper day-passes, which ticket machines issue now, good on at least ST express buses- same agency, after all?

    Would also suggest that cost considerations be paid for by saving staff time normally allotted to excuses as to why we can’t do any of the above. Or chalk it up to “marketing”- like Krispy Creme would.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Metro doesn’t want anyone treating ORCA as “disposable”. (This now seems to be the more-or-less official reason for the huge $5 card fee, 150% higher than all other bus smart cards in the country. (None of the other agencies with smart cards want them treated as disposable, either.) That begs the question: Why can’t they have a place to return ORCAs at Airport Station, and possibly get a partial rebate? But at least have a place to return used ones from tourists with no plans to come back. (Well, maybe they would come back, if they had discovered Kent.)

      As for marketing, “Link Light Rail” signage, with its logo (Yes, Link has a logo) just doesn’t provide much information. “Trains to downtown and the stadiums every 10 minutes most of the day” provides more info, and has to be seen before they walk up to the rental car agencies. Advertising where people see it from their cars is too late and wasted. I don’t think the Port will just give away the advertising space, given their long-term contracts with the rental car agencies.

      Another cheap place to advertise is on the web sites of teams coming to play here. Or maybe on the “Buy tickets” page for the Huskies’s/M’s/Sounders/Storm/Squawks would suffice.

      Getting to the airport by transit ought to be not-harry from other locations than downtown and Rainier Valley. Forcing South Parkers and much of West Seattle to backtrack downtown to catch Link is in the realm of “harry” for those trying to catch a flight and not have to plan two hours of transit time. The circuitous 560, coming only every half hour during the imaginery peak period at the airport just doesn’t do it. Access from the south is poor, unless you live along the A Line. When 200th St Station opens, I’d love to see an express bus between Tacoma and 200th + the south terminal stop. Given enough frequency, it might even draw ridership away from duplicate-heading 594s.

      1. When attending the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a ticket for an event provided free travel that day on transit.

        Would it be so difficult to do this with tickets for our major league sports teams and pay for it through an increase in the service fees or something?

      2. Perhaps the airport can change the signs to, “Light rail to Seattle (right arrow). Interim pre-rail shuttle to Kent (forward arrow).”

      3. I held onto my Southern California TAP card after visiting Los Angeles. Great souvenir, if I return for any reason I have one, and I could even load value to it before I step off my intercity mode of choice.

        This part is slightly OT however will there be any STB meetups this summer? Having Bolt service between Seattle and Portland makes an even better reason to make a no-car-included visit!

      4. Your Husky football ticket provides free travel on Metro Transit on game day, and has for 25 years (since the north upper deck was built in 1987). I’m not sure if it was originally intended for routes going to/from the U District and the special shuttles, but I’ve never had a problem using it elsewhere to make connections. It does not work on other agencies AFAIK, though.

      5. The interim shuttle to Kent doesn’t stop at the south terminal. Ironically, only ST buses are stopping transit users from heading toward and through the station. ST is stuck with the full cost of the south terminal stop. Agency competition might be causing Metro to not consider terminating the 180 at the airport. (Don’t get me started on the silly consequences of agency competition, including shutting down Link early on July 4th to avoid paying to keep the tunnel open. Of course, the guy in the King5 story going to Renton should really be complaining about the 101 stopping shortly after 11 pm.)

        I don’t actually expect the 180 to be re-routed once 200th St Station opens, given the lack of east-west road connectivity across I-5 at 200th. It might even continue for local connections even after Des Moines/Highline/232nd-240th Station opens.

        Having the 574 serve the south terminal stop adds several minutes to travel time to any points south, making it nearly non-competitive with the A Line, FWIW.

      6. It’s an open question whether the trunk connection between Kent Station and Link should go to SeaTac station or Highline CC station. Probably SeaTac will win out because the airport is such a major all-day destination. The 180 is already as fast as it can be, with a high speed limit and little traffic (at least when I ride it). An express route on KDM Road might make sense too. But Metro’s bias is to increase existing route segments rather than creating new ones, and the 180 is already all-day while the KDM Road routes are peak-only. So I suspect the 180 will win out, and service to Highline CC will get only minor improvements.

    2. Vancouver charges a $5 surcharge for all Canada Line boardings at the airport. Even with the surcharge, public transit is still by far the cheapest option for airport travel.

      The Port of Seattle would be more enthusiastic about airport users riding Link if they got a cut of the fares. Add a $5 surcharge to the TVMs at Seatac/Airport station, give the Port of Seattle a healthy cut, and better in-airport signage and advertizing will start to appear. Currently a Link rider only represents lost parking/rental car revenue to the Port of Seattle.

      (To placate the City of SeaTac, a TVM on the East side of Int’l. Blvd could be programmed not to charge the surcharge.)

      1. I wish cities would stop targeting tourists with special surcharges and taxes. Tourists consume very little in the way of public services.

        The Port would love a $5 Link airport surcharge – it would crush ridership. $7.75 * 4 people in a family is almost as much as a taxi.

      2. That works in other cities where airport passengers have a separate station or entrance. But this station is shared by people coming from the airport, SeaTac residents, and transferers from buses. The lot at the station entrance (where the Clarion hotel and its parking lot is) was intended to be a new city hall/town center/TOD residences, except that the owner is refusing to sell the parcel. When/if that is built, those people will be significant users of the station.

        Of course, ST could use various tricks to give residents and airport workers special ORCA cards that don’t have the surcharge, so that only ticket-buyers and new ORCA cards from the TVM are subject to it, but that’s not quite simple, and it still runs the risk of charging the surcharge to a non-airport rider.

      3. You think that’s bad? The Gautrain service in South Africa (Johannesburg/Pretoria) charges a fare from the airport to downtown Johannesburg of 125 Rand (that’s a bit over $15!). The fare from the nearest station to the airport is R31, or about $3.75 — that means an effective surcharge of around $11.

        The airport is the last stop on the line, and you only can enter the last two cars of the train, which don’t open at interim stations but only at a transfer station to the main line to Jo’burg/Pretoria…that’s how they can handle the surcharge. The airport station only serves the airport, so if you tap on/off there you will automatically get the airport fare. They’ve managed, at least on weekends, to time the connections such that you just miss a train at the transfer point and have to wait another 20-25 minutes. That being said, it’s a nice service and safe.

      4. (that should read “from the nearest station to the airport to downtown Jo’burg”)

      5. Denver’s airport route charges $11.

        Hmm, Denver also has a Neighborhood EcoPass, which is like a U-Pass but for a neighborhood. All the neighborhood’s residents have to agree to buy the annual pass, at a rate depending on the neighborhood’s size and transit usage. This lowers the price of the airport routes to $5, and makes regular routes free (including Express and light rail). Maybe the ORCA agencies should do something like this.

  2. It would be really nice if STB would do a graph for link ridership for the last couple years. I don’t know if it is horrible layout or the overwhelming bias but I can’t get anything out of the John Niles site. STB used to have some clear graphics when you did ridership reports.

    1. Here’s one I keep up to date, with corresponding Metro ridership (Total Boardings divided by 10 to keep it on the graph).
      It gives Central Link ridership projections made to secure FTA funds for the Airport Stn of 47,000 weekday riders by 2020, and subsequent budget and SIP plans to estimate a more realistic ridership number, based on actual results (quite proper I should note to determine levels of service needed).
      Finally, monthly actual weekday boardings are shown, then projected out at 3% per year each month, now that some recurring cyclical pattern have emerged.
      Two notes jump off the graph for me. First, Link is very tourist/event oriented, being a cheap ride from the airport, which may explain most, but not all the swings between summer and winter patterns, whereas bus ridership is pretty much stable, although flat.
      Second, based on ST’s current SIP projections of growth at about 3% through 2015, it appears Link will reach about 33,000 daily weekday boardings by 2020, or about 70% of the initial projection. (Note, these numbers are exclusive of any system additions in 2016, such as 200th or U-Link. Those boardings and system-wide effects are factored into those segments ridership projections).
      This info is only important for two reasons, as I see it:
      A. The FTA will have to consider the initial over projection on the 1st New Start funding package when ranking future requests, and may require a re-calibration of the models responsible for missing the mark by so much.
      B. Capacities of facilities being designed and built now and in the future may need to be scaled back to reflect these realities. In other words, we may not have the political will or financial capacity to overbuild the system, banking on the hopes that growth will eventually use it all.
      We live in a world of tough choices, and I for one would like 1/3 more going to Metro for buses to move people than for 30% larger stations, more trains parked in the barn, or tunnels under Bellevue that may not be needed after all.
      Of course you can draw your own conclusions.

      1. “Second, based on ST’s current SIP projections of growth at about 3% through 2015”

        Yeah, but isn’t that the thing about Link’s ridership, it is NOT following past trends (which the 3% figure is based on).

        “An average 26,600 riders per weekday rode Sound Transit light rail in Seattle during May, a 12 percent increase from a year earlier.

        The trend here is much different from the typical rail startup, which rises fast and then begins to level out within about two years. Instead, the nearly three-year-old Link line “continues to mature” since its opening in mid-2009, spokesman Bruce Gray said.”

      2. It’s a good question. I think the low lying fruit for Link has been picked. Mariners attendance is about half that a decade ago, maybe a stable Sonics arena would help, and a winning football season can’t hurt, but in the big picture, events don’t skew the total annual riders that much. Even at 5-6,000 extra riders on big game days, on 25 days a year, or 150,000 extra per year, that’s only a 1.7% bump in the total.
        Tourism is already factored in, so maybe the Great Wheel will be a huge draw (Nah), and TOD is off to a slow start. Developers have had 15 years since ’96 to plan and build density around Link.
        Maybe $10/gal gas does the trick, but then you need a bigger bus system and funding to support that, as the parking around Link is pretty much spoken for.
        Bruce is a good soldier for ST, and Mike tends to throw easy questions. I’d look at annual total riders for a better indicator of growth than just one month year over year. Annual growth for last year was 12%, while Avg Daily Boardings for the 1st Qtr ’12 grew at 8%. The record event ridership given in the article wasn’t much different from a record event day last year, but it makes good press.

      3. mic,
        It would appear the actual annual growth rate (12%) exceeds the projected growth rate (3%). At 10% average annual growth what does Central Link ridership look like in 2020?

        I also believe ridership for U Link and North Link (especially North Link) will will be much higher than projected. Remember that models being models can just as easily undershoot actual ridership as overshoot them. However nobody seems to beat up transit agencies for underestimating ridership.

        As for future FTA grants I don’t think that is a big worry at the moment as I believe the only segment at this point depending on Federal grants that haven’t already been allocated is the extension from Northgate to Lynnwood. Even with a revised model that segment is likely to score quite well under the FTA criteria.

        You do realize that Metro and ST have completely separate budgets and it would be difficult at best to divert ST funding from LINK to Metro? ST has decided to build LINK stations to accommodate 4 cars. While some segments of the line may never require trains of such length the segment between Downtown and Northgate almost certainly will at least at peak. Besides the added costs are small and much cheaper than attempting to expand stations from 3 to 4 cars at some point in the future will be. For the parked trains, those are there because ST was able to save money by buying the cars for U Link early rather than waiting until the line was closer to completion. The City of Bellevue has made it very clear it isn’t willing to accept LINK on the surface through downtown. Picking a fight with the city at this point would be counterproductive as the delays and cost caused by lawsuits would wipe out any savings from dropping the downtown Bellevue tunnel.

      4. If Central Link ridership grows by 10% a year, it would be about 57,000 in May 2020. That’s unlikely to happen, as growth will almost certainly slow down, but it would reach its target of 45,000 if it grows by an average of around 6.5%/year, which seems within the realm of possibility.
        However, Chris, models don’t “just as easily undershoot actual ridership as overshoot them,” the vast majority of large transit projects have over-predicted ridership, which is something they need to work on.

      5. I suppose you could forecast 10% rise for Metro too, because of all the efficiencies they have been taking but the flat line graph says ridership isn’t growing.
        I hope you’re right on ULink, but for one station to start doing what ALL of downtown does now is highly unlikely. It’s easy to be optimistic, then say, OK let’s wait until 2016 and see. Then you have to wait a couple of years to get a trend, like we now have, and by then the system is built. Where’s the good planning in all this?
        Transit New Starts is highly competitive for dwindling funds. Has the Puget Sound put itself in a position to be unable to capture large grants in the future, because we, you know, sort of ‘shot our wad’ on the snake route to the SeaTac and a tunnel to Northgate? No ST3/4 money either?
        Of course I know where funding for ST/Metro goes. But who’s to say ST can’t pay for many ‘Regional Services’ like Swift/RR-E on Aurora, or many more MT/CT/PT express bus routes and services. Are feeder routes that primarily bring riders to and from a Link station excluded from funding, whereas a parking garage that encourages riders to Link is not? Perhaps the legislature could re-allocate some of the funding from one agency to another, such as the MVET or Sales Tax authorization and still protect bond holders. These things are not etched in granite.
        The parked trains was not a reference to the early ULink purchace, but more long term. If two car trains are in our future for decades, then is it wise to build maintenance facilities and cars that will see 50% service factors, when those funds are needed for buses and bus hours today? That’s why it is so important to balance funding sources with actual needs. What are those needs? Today and tomorrow, not 100 years from now.
        As for Bellevue, I’ve pointed out that ST could save nearly $500 mil by consolidating all three downtown stations into one, and run elevated along 112th to connect the dots in recent posts. This is not chump change. If one is to take the current ridership projections as the gospel, then all three Bellevue stops combined are 8,000 daily boardings, whereas one stop at Northgate will generate nearly twice that amount. I don’t buy it! I question the numbers. Others should too.
        So far the models have done a poor job in predicting actual use. That’s just a fact.

      6. If the concern is reaching a certain projected ridership by 2020, then get North Link open by 2020. Problem solved.

      7. Yes, whether it is the recession or some other reason Link ridership has not tracked to the models. It was lower in the beginning but is increasing at a higher rate than expected now. I don’t think you have adequately shown your work though when it comes to missing 2020 projections.

        Again, how do the year over year growth rates stack up each quarter. Is ridership increasing at the same rate, growing faster over time or slowing down? That is what I was asking about earlier. With that we can do a better projection out to 2016.

      8. “we, you know, sort of ‘shot our wad’ on the snake route to the SeaTac and a tunnel to Northgate?”

        The tunnel to Northgate is the most important segment Link will ever need. When ST2 Link is finished, it will address all of my biggest transit concerns in the region. So I’m not as concerned if additional extensions have less likelyhood. (Although we do need to push for more Seattle lines.)

      9. When I was following the early plans, I realized that the initial analysis generated numbers for what we now call University Link, with the numbers for Central Link as the “incremental change” on the U-Link numbers. That study seemed well done.

        The revised Central-Link-only numbers always seemed a little rushed and sloppy to me.

        If they revise the planning projections down based on the underperformance of those numbers, they would likely have to revise them back up again when U-Link opens, if the original U-Link projections were correct.

        The U District is very likely, based on what happens in other cities which have a university which isn’t downtown, to generate as much as or more ridership than the whole of downtown. U-Link also manages to cross both natural and artificial bottlenecks, which is always an advantage for a mass transit line. I would not be surprised if overall ridership more than doubled when U-Link opened.

        I’m thinking there won’t be good numbers to model ridership with, or any sort of stabilization in ridership, until after U-Link opens. Luckily it seems that no further requests for federal money will be necessary until after U-Link opens, except perhaps for Lynnwood Link.

      10. Part of the lower-than-projected ridership is that various south King County routes bypass Link completely instead of feeding into it. ST has no control over that.

        U-Link ridership will be affected by whether certain routes connect to or bypass UW Station. But just as importantly, it will be affected by whether certain routes get more frequency. The 372, 65, and 74 should all get a big upgrade, but also a re-route to Montlake and Pacific. Perhaps the 74 would have no reason to continue south beyond the campus, but it ought to become two-way and all-day. The 373 and/or 67, I would hope, would also become a trunk route, and serve the station.

        The elimination of the 167, 197, and 586 will force some transfers, and be the cause of a few hundred of those new U-Link trips.

        Productivity differences between the 7 and 7X (which is down to four runs each peak period) should lead to the 7X being phased out. I suspect the proposed 40 last year was a hint of the future of the 106, and should get little resistance if the Argo Bridge re-route is still in effect.

        And if the 180 does get an upgrade, it might fill up with off-peak commuters who prefer to transfer in SeaTac rather than Kent.

        As enough people move around the stations, the NIMBY’s will start losing out at neighborhood association meetings, and TOD will start being allowed. Given the location and pent-up demand, it will happen.

      11. “The U District is very likely, based on what happens in other cities which have a university which isn’t downtown, to generate as much as or more ridership than the whole of downtown. U-Link also manages to cross both natural and artificial bottlenecks, which is always an advantage for a mass transit line. I would not be surprised if overall ridership more than doubled when U-Link opened.”

        I doubt U-district ridership will reach downtown’s level or double. But it should go up significantly because the quality of service will be better than the 71/72/73/43/49/66/67. People won’t think with dread about the overcrowding on the 71/72/73X or the infrequency/slowness of the 43/49/66 at certain times. Instead, a trip between Link stations will be “easy”, and that will encourage people to take more transit trips (or more total trips) that they’re now avoiding.

      12. “I suspect the proposed 40 last year was a hint of the future of the 106”

        What was the 40 proposal?

      13. Thanks for everyone’s comments and keeping it civil. I talked with FTA region 10 administrator Krechalis this morning about ridership projections and New Starts. He gave high praise to ST for all they are doing and the huge task they have ahead of them.
        Two points worth mentioning are this:
        FTA is currently drafting new rules on New Start funding and how things are measured. Here’s a good link on some of what’s on the table.
        It looks like less emphasis will be placed on local ridership modeling and use more standardized methodology and census data to generate the models. This jives with his statement that their (FTA) modeling guys are in DC, not locally. From the article, it looks like more environmental points may be given to gaining ‘net new riders’ over the current ranking criteria. Time will tell for future FFGA in new segments and how cost effectiveness projects will rank around the country, when compared to other alternatives.
        I think Brent, Mike and others have the right perspective about getting a good handle on bus reorg priorities. That’s where the complete ‘Before and After’ study will be invaluable as a working tool. He didn’t seem too concerned it’s taking time to complete, as they would like it to be comprehensive and right. Can’t wait to see a draft.

      14. Nathanael,

        I’m skeptical that U-Link will be the smashing success that folks are predicting out of the box. There are significant parts of the campus which are a half mile or greater hike from the station, which is on the wrong side of the very busy Montlake quasi-freeway. Spring and Fall should not be a problem; the campus is a beautiful walk. But Winter in the rail?

        Even worse, the bus transfer facilities at Husky Stadium will be execrable. Having a major bus transfer facility flanking that mega street is foolish and will be repulsive to riders. I continue to be flabbergasted at the short sighted penny-pinching that has prevented the creation of a mezzanine extension under Montlake, at least to the triangle so that Pacific Place could become a transit mall, and preferably all the way into the basement of the Med Center.

      15. I guess it depends on how much of the traffic is from students, as opposed to others. Students will very consistently do a mile-long walk or bike in the winter; I’m in a university town, I watch it happen. Students tend to use mass transportation in much larger percentages than other people, too.

    1. There is something to be said for basing bond ratings on the full faith and credit of a wealthy local tax base rather than on projected future tourism. I don’t really understand how stadia funded by hotel taxes get decent bond financing.

  3. Taxi about to get expensive?!

    I live 9 miles from Seatac and while the cheapest transport is taking the 168 to the incredible undependable 180, the next best option is driving and using a weekly special coupon from Doug Fox Parking.

      1. It is a combination of various factors.

        1) Lots of disabled riders on the local portion of the 180 serving South Auburn.
        2) Tight schedule and heavy crowds on the portion between Kent and Auburn.
        3) Occasional traffic jams approaching and in downtown Kent.
        4) Occasional train delays.

  4. Though a bit over-hyped, the article on Vancouver’s greenway was good in my opinion. What many non-citizens of the Lower Mainland don’t see in the piece is that to some extent there’s a war between cars and bikes there just like so many places in the States. That aside, sure is nice to ride in certain parts of town up there.

    As for the eastside RR line their trying to get hashed out…… someday it will happen.

  5. I’m delighted that there will be investment in making Northgate Way more safely walkable, and ecstatic that the pedestrian bridge at Northgate Station is getting project ownership. Thanks, Councilmember Conlin, city council, and the ST Board!

    Metro should be delighted by this, too. If all the buses that currently come from the north and cross at 95th to go to Northgate end up going via Northgate Way, and all the buses currently coming from the south and going via Northgate Way instead use 95th, that will be a huge savings for Metro. Walkability in between will be a brisk walk rather than waiting for a bus from Northgate TC.

    Save the hours for more frequent east-west local service, and that should take care of a big chunk of the parking mitigation.

    1. I assume the hydrogen is manufactured from water using electricity?…. doesn’t seem very efficient.

      1. Actually the vast majority of hydrogen production is from steam methane reforming (aka natural gas). Ironically the two largest consumers of hydrogen are refining and fertilizer. Both huge industries in Texas (along with natural gas production) which explains why George Bush pushed through hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies for hydrogen. Al Gore used the same green cloak of invisibility to push for bio-fuel subsidies to corn and soy bean producers. Follow the money.

      2. A-ha. So the hydrogen stuff is yet another attempt by the oil patch to push through subsidies for fossil fuel and starve renewable energy.

        I always suspected it, but I hadn’t figured out exactly how they were doing it.

      3. Thanks very much for explaining the technology behind the oil and gas company’s “clean hydrogen” scam, Bernie.

      4. I doubt that most hydrogen aficionados have connected the dots to methane as Bernie has. They just like the fact that it lets them keep their cars rather than switching to transit. Actually, if it is true that methane is a reliable precursor to hydrogen, there is a lot of undesirable methane in the form of cow farts and I think rice paddies, which is currently doing no good but adding to global warming. So that could become a sustainable source of hydrogen if it could be effectively harnessed.

      5. Not enough energy density in cows. Besides, cow farts are carbon neutral. What the U.S. Department of Energy is looking at is coal:

        Results from process design and economic simulation of a Benchmark Steam-Methane-
        Reforming (SMR) system make it possible to test at what price the cost of methane makes coal-base hydrogen economical.

        It’s pretty nasty. The basic reaction is CH4 + H2O -> CO + 3H2 (one part methane to one part steam yields one part carbon monoxide and three parts hydrogen gas). A secondary reaction cleans up about 90% of the carbon monoxide by converting it via heat produced by burning more natural gas or coal; CO + H2O -> CO2 + H2. Then it’s a trivial matter of building a pipeline to pump the carbon dioxide to a carbon sequestration area; method TBD. Big companies like, Texaco, Shell, Foster-Wheeler, BNSF, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal love the truckloads of government money rolling down the hydrogen highway.

  6. I like the picture of one of Aunt Pattie’s buses. We have them in Vancouver, too and ARE THY NICE!!! They even have reading lights like an airplane.

    Everyone on the site gonna get out and stump for Aunt Maria this fall? If you love transit it’s important to keep that seat. Ol’ Bitch McConnell isn’t going to go to bat for it if HE’s Majority leader.

    1. I really don’t think Maria has much to worry about, the opposition this year is token at best.

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