Here’s some light reading for those of you stuck in POTUS-induced gridlock. King County Metro has won a competitive grant from FTA’s State of Good Repair/Bus Livability program to improve 3rd Ave. While that might sound like something to do with riding late-night trips on the 75 in winter, it’s actually about improving the quality of bus facilities and access to them. Hot off my Gmail, here’s an official statement from Metro, emphasis added:

King County Metro has been selected to receive a total $4,788,000 for two projects from the Bus Livability program.

* Bicycle Access Enhancements to RapidRide Facilitates – $730,000
* Third Avenue Transit Corridor Improvements – $4,058,000

These two projects have also been selected to received funding through competitive grant competitions at the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC).  So we’ll need to look at where there may be duplication of scope between the PSRC award and the FTA award to determine whether there are portions of grants that may need to be returned.

More after the jump.

Q: What will this be used for?

The Third Avenue Transit Corridor Improvement and RapidRide Facilities project will focus on the region’s primary transit corridor – Third Avenue between Jackson Street and Denny Way. Bus stops along Third Avenue are used by roughly 42,000 daily passengers and approximately 54,000 daily riders travel along the corridor.

The project complements Seattle’s efforts to provide a more attractive, safe and convenient Third Avenue environment to visitors, commuters and residents. In addition to current high levels of local and regional bus service on Third Avenue, Metro’s RapidRide C (West Seattle), D (Ballard) and E (Aurora Ave N) Lines will use the Third Avenue corridor through downtown from Denny Way in the north to SR 99 in the south.

The project will increase transit speed and schedule reliability, upgrade passenger amenities, boost ridership, and improve safety and security. Metro projects 50% ridership growth in RapidRide corridors by 2017 and is seeing trends toward this goal on the already-implemented A and B Lines. Recent research by the University of Illinois-Chicago has shown that providing real-time information at bus stops increases ridership. Ridership growth will decrease automobile usage, thereby lowering vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Annual GHG reduction estimates are about 2,500 metric tons.

The project components include:

1. Twenty-one bus stops in the downtown core and Belltown will receive the following passenger amenities:

-Real-time information signage for passenger convenience
-ORCA card readers for off-bus fare payment by card
-Ticket Vending Machines for off-bus fare payment by cash
-Branding elements to highlight premium RapidRide service
-Weather protection for passenger comfort
-Lighting upgrades for passenger safety and security
-Sidewalk improvements/ADA compliance to enhance pedestrian circulation and accessibility
-Solar-powered compacting trash receptacles to enhance cleanliness and aesthetics

This project will also improve the sidewalk and install pedestrian-scale lighting and bicycle facilities at select locations within the project area, enhancing the walking and biking environment and improving safety.

Q: Is this “new money”, or money that Metro had already budgeted for, in anticipation of the award?

The grant award is new funding, not previously assumed.

My initial reaction? Awesome. It’s not going to singlehandedly turn RapidRide into the real rapid transit that Ballard and Aurora deserve, but it’s a big step in the march towards better bus service, especially combined with SDOT’s Denny Way trolleybus wire project and promised spot paving of 3rd Ave. Another huge pat on the back for Metro’s grant writers!

UPDATE: Mike Lindblom has more details at the Times.

47 Replies to “3rd Ave to get Ticket Vending Machines”

  1. Not letting cash fumblers slow things down where it matters the most? Win.

    1. Except now they’ll be fumblng with tickets. What are we supposed to do with them? Will they simply be used as “flash passes” for drivers to glance at (and ingnore the status of as we’re told to do with transfers and courtesy passes issued by shelters)? Drivers have been told that the off-bus ORCA readers, onboard fare inspectors and rear-door boarding will be an advantage to take drivers out of the (perceived but not policy) fare enforcement loop. I vote “no” on TVM’s for buses.

      1. At least now the “flash passes” will be more precise — a time stamp instead of a tear. If you are used to not enforcing fares, this won’t be an additional burden.

      2. Actually the square passes – supposed to be good for one day – given out by shelters only have a line where the person is supposed to write the date in. They often leave this space blank or continually alter the date to extend the use of the pass for days, even months. Any additional mode of fare payment where people are given the expectation that they have to provide proof of payment to a driver will increase the chance of conflict over fare issues. As long as there’s no such expectation (i.e. ticket holders can board through the rear doors and it’s up to fare inspectors to verify payment), then the burden is off the driver, but the chance of conflct still there as someone will have to deal with it. I’m less than optimistic that having TVM’s will add, rather than subtract, from the issue of boarding times and passenger satisfaction. TriMet’s increased reliance on TVM hasn’t been all positive.

      3. I do agree that it would be better for Metro to have some fare enforcement on all CBD routes, in addition to the TVMs.

        It would require giving paper transfers (or slips if they are eventually not accepted as transfers) to all cash boarders. If they don’t want it, the driver just has to point out it is needed as proof of payment. Giving out the transfers would be a minor culture change, but not a significant new cost.

  2. I love little surprises like this. Awesome, simply awesome. I can think of other locations that *might* benefit from this but 3rd Ave is definitely a top priority for the money they have.

  3. That’s great news! Any idea what the total budget would be for this project, and how much more funding still needs to be found? Or does this fully fund it?

    1. I don’t have official word, and I’ve no idea what the total cost of this was, but I think some of this must have been funded already out of Metro’s general fund. Besides the TVMs and bike stuff, this work is already in progress throughout the D Line. My guess is that this mostly serves to allow Metro to purchase TVMs, and frees up cash in Metro’s general fund.

  4. This is great news but this should have been a required mitigation step related to the elimination of the RFZ, not a unexpected saving grace.

  5. So, is this improvement solely for RR-C and RR-D (and RR-E in the future) or will the TVMs and ORCA readers also be useful for other routes that serve 3rd Ave?

    1. ORCA — I don’t think so, there’s no way to enforce it without fare inspectors on all the other routes, which I doubt Metro can afford. Paper tickets — I see no reason why they couldn’t be timestamped and shown to the driver. Technically you can already do this with SLUT tickets, if you can ever persuade those useless machines to give you a ticket.

      1. Will RapidRide buses share stations with regular and trolley buses? I assumed they’d be in an every-other-block configuration. This would make it difficult to use ticket vending machines for regular bus payment, since you’d have to walk a block for your ticket.

      2. Yeah, stations will be shared; non-RR routes will appear on the realtime arrival sign (assuming C & D are run like A & B are). That’s why I’m stoked about SDOT’s wire project: once the trolleys run on the same alignment in both directions with RapidRide, the Queen Anne buses’ alignment will differ from RapidRide only by one stop (inbound) and a two stops (outbound); they’ll get RT arrival for free.

      3. Mr. Ragsdale,

        What is the point of ORCA readers *on* the streetcar? There is nobody watching you tap when you board.

        The idea with the fare system all along was to pump up ridership on the SLUT by making it de facto free, and then charging Metro directly for fare equivalency. If this sounds fishy, we know who the big fish behind this are.

      4. I don’t want to see people’s ticket because I don’t want to deal will all of the fraud that’s coming along with them or explaining to folks that their ticket is expired and waiting for them to pay the correct fare, etc. Might as well keep the RFA in place.

      5. Beavis,

        By requiring a ticket or ORCA within the CBD, routes that originate downtown are de facto POP for the length of 3rd Ave.

        State the fare once, let the passenger board, then signal the Metro police. If they have the time to meet up with you before exiting the CBD, the whole bus will get to see fare enforcement in action.

        BTW, fare evasion with no recorded warning may lead to a recorded warning, but if the warning happened on the bus (including a recorded voice message), then when the police arrive, they can go straight to arresting the passenger. I’ve seen it done, actually, when a whole group of kids on the 41 were met by a posse and unceremoniously escorted off the bus at Convention Place.

      6. RR buses do share stops with conventional transit on 3rd Avenue. People will be buying tickets and expecting them to work on Metro/ST etc. buses, much as they do now with the Link TVM tickets, only on a larger scale.

      1. I believe it will add to confusion and conflict, and potentially slow, rather than speed boarding. As a driver – it’s also another means of payment to deal with when we’re both told about acceptable means of payment (Metro devotes several pages in The Book to identifying what types of pass and fares are valid), and basically beng told to ignore fares entirely. Ideally, these TVM passes will be valid only on RapidRide (not likely as many RR branded stops are also Metro/ST/CT/PT stops), and only available downtown with all-door boarding. The plan is to have RR be front door boardng only after 7pm, all door exiting always; Metro will be front door loading only always with all door exiting always.

        October is going to be a nightmare.

      2. October will be much less of a nightmare if there are more methods of off-board payment on all buses.

        Yes, it is one more method of fare payment to learn, but you’re also no longer having to deal with the headache of PAYSTTE. So, it is a net headache reduction. PAYSTTE was a bigger source of violent fare confrontation, as you may recall.

  6. The ticket machines sound like a good idea. From their basic description, these they sound to me like the the sort of units that a lot of the pay parking lots have these days, and they should be able to print out mostly-readable tickets with time stamp info for transfer purposes. Or I guess they could just spit out the same sort of tickets that Metro sells in ticket-book form.

    I’d be interested to know just how much each of these units will cost to buy and install (compared to similar parking lot units), and also how much it will cost to have someone collect the cash from them (daily?) and keep them properly maintained and clean. I’d sort of guess that this grant doesn’t include permanent funding to hire more people for that sort of vending machine upkeep.

      1. Is the City enthusiastic about the idea of maintaining these extra units? (That would be “extra” from their POV, anyway.) I’ve notice quite a few of the existing parking meter units downtown seem to stay tagged/defaced for a long time. They seem to be kept in working order, but a lot of them seem to be turning into small-scale civic eyesores.

  7. Does this mean cash payment during boarding will be banned at these 21 bus stops? (as well as in the tunnel) If not, I can see people opting to pay with cash at the door just to game the transfer length. (This is one more reason to reduce the length of paper transfers to one hour, matching PT’s paper transfer value.)

    And then there is the question of people who will wait for their bus to pull up, and then buy their ticket, signaling to the driver to wait for them to fumble cash and change at the TVM. I hope drivers are trained to close the door and move on when someone does this.

    Also, will ST and CT bus tickets be available at the TVMs?

    1. Better yet – eliminate paper transfers altogether. ST has done it, as have other agencies.

  8. Will the tunnel ORCA VMs be adapted to print bus tickets similar to the ones at 3rd Ave bus TVMs?

  9. TVMs are a great idea. More of them downtown will mitigate against the end of the Ride Free Zone. But sell the ticket anytime and then time-stamp on the bus or when entering the DSTT. That way someone can have a book of tickets in their wallet and use them as they need them, even at stops away from a TVM.

    1. We already have booklets of ticket vouchers like that, mostly sold at the same outlets as ORCA. They tend to come in denominations less than the full cost of the ride, and become cash-fumbling equivalency. It’s my impression that very few people buy them, as they don’t represent a price break over paying cash at the front door.

      The only reason to keep them, IMHO, is to give them to human service agencies that give out free tickets to their clientele. This is what Pierce Transit does. Eventually, there should be a cost-effective ORCA solution for human service agencies.

      Metro also gives out non-capped “free ticket” vouchers, which are kinda like Forever Stamps.

      I don’t know how these ticket vouchers could be time-stamped when entering the bus. That would probably require an additional piece of machinery. The current methodology — taking the ticket voucher and giving the rider a paper transfer — seems to work okay enough.

      But when multiple denominated vouchers are involved, then this is a system that really ought to be phased out where feasible.

  10. Where are the RapidRide shelters downtown. There has been one in Belltown for several months, but I noticed this weekend (riding the 23 southbound) that there are none around Pike-Pine or further south, unless I missed them. Is Metro waiting until the last month to install them?

    1. I’ll ask. Metro facilities people have told me in the past that the CBD (south of Virginia) is very challenging, among other things due to the difficulty of running power to the shelters and associated electronics.

  11. Metro also put out an Operations Bulletin today regardng Pay As You Enter and Zone Fares. Outbound buses headed through 2 zones will be set at one zone until the bus actually passes the zone boundary. This means that many outbound passengers who normally travel beyond the city limits and use ORCA as either pass or-e-purse will be able to ride paying on the one-zone fare. Metro will not be requiring those traveling 2 zones to “tap off”. Some eastbound routes whose ridership is almost exclusively headed cross-zone will be set at a 2-zone default. Folks headed for the Rainier/I-90 stop or Montlake will have to ask to ahve the driver manually set the reader to 1-zone. Not sure how this will impact riders who tap on the platform. Am assuming that Metro will lose a good amount of revenue through 2-zone riders only paying for one-zone – oddly by design. This wll impact RR and Metro both.

    1. (sigh) Looking just at the incentives this creates: it’ll be even cheaper to commute from the suburbs, subsidized by those that live close to where they work.

      1. It will actually only subsidize commuters from North and South King County who can ride home on a 1-zone fare, while people going to the Eastside, which is certainly closer than Kent, will pay a 2-zone fare.

    2. Why would you set the ORCA reader to two-zone after crossing the zone boundary? Say you’re on the 358 going north. Once you’re in Shoreline, all the rest of the trips are guaranteed to be one-zone trips.

      @Matt: The people that really get shafted by the zone system are people that ride across zone boundaries often. Many trips between Shoreline and north Seattle on the 358 fall in this category. I’m sure there are similar cases in the south suburbs, cases for people that cross county lines (here agency splits make it even more painful). I doubt bus zones are remotely effective at creating an incentive for short commutes anyway.

      1. How will Metro charge 2 zone fares to those who board prior to the zone boundary without PAYL is the real question.

    3. The description sounds nonsensical. I suspect it was misparaphrased.

      For buses headed across I-90, setting up the ability to “tap off” off-board at other downtown stops, and at an ORCA reader set up at the Rainier Freeway Station, should be straightforward. For riders going two zones, there would be no reason to tap off.

      For express buses, there are limited stops in the first zone, so just set up off-board ORCA readers specific to those stops. For local buses going two zones, give up charging for two zones, and stop punishing riders for riding on a route that happens to eventually cross the fare zone, and for which those riders crossing the fare zone are generally not taking longer rides than those who got on that bus downtown. (E.g. the people getting off the 132 in Burien are not the ones who boarded downtown.)

      But the most important thing to do is to not fumble zones on the ORCA reader at the front doors of buses in the tunnel and on 3rd Ave. The zone system needs to get out of the way of the buses!

      1. The Operations Bulletin issued by Metro described a process that would not require “tap off”. Instead those in or outbound passengers who will be crossing 2 zones will have to (motivation?) request that the driver manually re-set the reader to charge them for the extra zone, then change it back immediately afterwards.

      2. You’re assuming that bus-based ORCA readers can feasably support tapoff. The readers that currently do tapoff are in fixed locations. That’s different from a moving bus.

  12. Ugh…why paper tickets? Just get put in some real TVMs that sell ORCA cards and drop the price to a dollar.

    1. The ORVA VMs are much more expensive (ca. $750,000 a machine, according the the napkin calculations on one previous post).

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