2nd & Yesler, c.1922 (Rob Ketcherside/Flickr)

This is an open thread.

151 Replies to “News Roundup: 520”

  1. TriMet’s consideration of BRT is long overdue, and it’s entirely possible that the unique portion of the Green Line (Gateway Transit Center to Clackamas Transit Center) and the under-construction Orange Line (Downtown Portland/South Waterfront/Milwaukie) may have been better served by BRT than light rail. Or, for that matter, BRT treatments on existing high ridership corridors.

    In addition, WES Commuter Train service seemed like an innovative solution at the time, whereas again BRT would’ve enhanced existing transit travelsheds in an area of the Portland Metro Area that’s definitely underserved by transit.

    Even something similar to RapidRide or Los Angeles Metro “Rapid” service (where all-day, bi-directional, limited stop service enhances local service instead of replacing it) would be a vast improvement.

    1. The problem, at least for the SW corridor, is that a choice of BRT is going to be similar to Seattle’s RapidRide. They will pick BRT as the cheaper option, because taking lanes away on the ODOT highway is not an option, and adding lanes is prohibitively expensive due to the topography. The only way to achieve rapit transit is to bore a tunnel for at least half of the route. Thus, rapid BRT and light rail will have similar construction costs. If the SW corridor project gets built and they don’t include a subway station for OHSU, the project should be considered a failure.

      1. Agree that OHSU needs a stop, and that can only be done with a tunnel. Which is why the Southwest Corridor will continue to be served by the 12.

    2. BRT in the WES corridor is flatly impossible, Jason. There are no decent streets that penetrate the Tigard and Tualatin town centers parallel to the P&W tracks. None.

      BRT would have to wander around on narrow “arterials” like 72nd or do countless double-backs to access the freeways.

      Now BRT could better serve Washington Square and some stop removal on the parallel 76 would be useful. But buses will never come close to the rapid travel time of WES in that corridor.

      The problem with WES is the “do it on the cheap” mentality that forced the tiny two-car trains. It will never do more than make a small dent in the traffic on 217.

    3. Speaking of WES, how have passengers reacted to having to transfer to MAX to get downtown and vice-versa? How long do they have to wait, and how much do they complain about it? Was there ever a push for a one-seat ride, and if so, how was it deflected, and how much did people grumble about it? Or do Portlanders just not care as much about one-seat rides? Because this will come up if we ever convert Sounder North into Link feeders, or if there are ever Sounder-to-Sounder transfers (an Auburn-Maple Valley line, or transfers beyond Everett and Lakewood).

      1. As stated above, WES was supposed to be a “cheap” project. The lack of compatibility between the freight rail tracks south of Beaverton and the MAX line east of Beaverton made it impossible for a one seat ride. The WES corridor is a great candidate for conversion to light rail, some day.

    4. BRT is a joke.

      Nearly all buses should be like LA Metro “Rapid” service. This is just what buses should be like. Please note that it has no infrastructure to speak of besides bus shelters and bus bulbs. And it’s certainly worse service than light rail; ask anyone in LA who’s taken the Blue Line.

      If you’re going to actually build busways, it’s more cost-effective to build rail, practically without exception.

      1. The Seattle Times reported that 450,000 people, many tourists, rode the Benson line in 2003, two years before service stopped…

        Great, so as many people used the thing in a year as use our actual, struggling, dysfunctional transit system in a day.

        Seems worthy of our heightened attentions.

      2. So the last part of the massive corporate welfare scheme where Rice, Schell, etc sold city property at fire sale prices, and stuck the city government in the ugly, poorly-constucted, unable-to-fill, phalluc symbol known as the AT&T Gateway Tower/Key Bank Tower/Seattle Municipal Tower is happening?

      3. The Municipal Tower has its issues, but it’s far better than what came before it. The old City Hall and the Public Safety Building were decrepit embarrassments.

      4. I worked in the old Muni Building for a while. It was a total dump built on the cheap and falling apart by the early 90s. The Public Safety Building was even worse.

        I think buying the Key Tower was one of the smartest things the folks at the City have done.

    1. Civic Square was a victim of the downturn.

      Funny how everyone, including the developers and banks was a “victim”. Nobody bet big and lost.

  2. I put this out there on the last open thread, but it was buried pretty deep so people may not have seen it.

    Now that the stoplight at Genesee and Avalon is operational, the route 50 can return to its originally intended routing Westbound via Delridge, Genesee, and Avalon. The problem is, there are currently no marked stops between Delridge/Andover and 35th/Avalon: a distance of nearly a mile! Note that there are bus stops at Delridge/Genesee and Genesee/Avalon, but these are oriented to be unreachable by a westbound coach. I have not been able to get a response from metro about this issue.

    A big reason for our strong advocacy for the rt 50 diversion through North Delridge was to serve the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, th community center, playfields, skate park, and residents at and near Delridge and Genesee. Lacking a stop there is a big issue.

    Does anybody have any info on this? Any suggestions? Thanks

    1. Also, note that one of the things I learned from talking to Metro about facilities on Leary was that it can take an insanely long time (about a year) to build a new bus stop if new pavement is required. It’s quite possible that this is the source of delay here. I will forward Metro’s response to you.

      1. There SHOULDN’T be a need for anything. All we want is a “flag” for the stop. That’s it. We’re not asking for a shelter or even a bench. At one of the most obvious spots for the stop, the parking strip is already paved over and a neighbor already puts out a bench there.

      2. SDOT could require replacing the asphalt pavement at a stop with concrete because of the damage buses do to asphalt. Not sure if the conditions in this case would warrant it, but that is what we pay the folks at SDOT to figure out.

      3. Bruce,
        SW Genesee between Delridge Way and Avalon Way is a concrete street. Old concrete, but concrete nonetheless. Hope at least two zones are added along the #50 westbound Genesee corridor. One at Genesee and 25th or 26th, and one at Genesee, just prior to the new signal at Andover. Eastbound would find the temporary zone at Avalon and Genesee becoming permanent, and the exisiting zone for the #120, #125 and #50 at northbound Delridge Way and Genesee.

    2. I heard back from metro regarding Rt 50. According to the metro spokesman:

      – The Route 50 will return to its originally intended routing through North Delridge (via Delridge, Genessee, & Avalon) starting February 16th

      – There will be a new set of bus stops put in place on Genessee just east of 30th Ave.

      – Additionally, the southbound 120/125 stop at Delridge & Genessee will be relocated to the north side of the intersection so as to serve route 50 as well.

      1. Or, by the sounds of it, maybe the new ones are acting irrationally—after the price hikes supposedly 20 of 32 units will be vacant. That can’t be good business.

      2. After forcing out tenants, property managers like PLP can swiftly rehabilitate the vacant units, which costs them significantly less time and money

        They want the units empty so that they can complete the remodel and justify the upscale rents.

      3. Yeah. It’s basically the same thing as the “condo conversions” that were happening during the boom. They up the rent to squeeze out as many people as possible, and drive out the rest with construction noise.

    1. Real Estate is all about location. Whether they are building new units or renovating old.

      “This outskirted Capitol Hill area is going through a development boom, and meanwhile, Prince tenants aren’t paying comparable market rents,” says PLP regional manager Jason Alldredge during a telephone interview. “This is a building that’s underperforming because the electrical system is bad, the plumbing is horrible, the meters in the basement are old, the mortar is falling apart. From a structural standpoint, the building is not functioning as it should. And, with all the work we’re doing, we might as well go in and bring up the aesthetics, too,” says Alldredge.

    2. So what would have happened if the new towers around it hadn’t been built? The vacancy rate would have gone down and rents would have gone up. Those who want a walkable/transit-oriented neighborhood would have to live further away in neither. Or it would mean Seattle is in recession and unemployment is rising and people are leaving.

      In this case, an old building with deteriorated infrastructure is being renovated. Perhaps the new rents reflect its future worth rather than its current worth. But then, what happens if the building is not renovated? Eventually it falls apart.

      I had the pleasure of living in an old Capitol Hill studio with deteriorated hot water and other problems. For the first few years rent was below market, then it shot up $150 in one year, to match the other studios around which were in better condition. A bunch of people moved out, to get a better apartment for the same rate or less. I would have gone too, but I was anticipating a life transition which took 1 1/2 years longer than I’d expected. Finally I’d had it after so many years in old apartments with low water pressure and few 2-pronged electric outlets, and got an over-$1000 middle-class unit. The biggest saving grace of the delay was that I didn’t buy a condo just before the bubble burst….

      1. If the new towers hadn’t been built, it wouldn’t have become a “desirable” neighborhood. Once rezoning/redevelopment starts in a neighborhood it starts a chain reaction that pushes lower- and middle-class people outward toward the suburbs.

      2. The towers were built because it was a desirable neighborhood. If you don’t allow development, especially in this era where there’s an overabundance of non-walkable/transit-less housing and way insufficient walkable/transit-rich housing, it ends up forcing a greater percentage of people into car-dependent areas. That’s not good.

      3. Both wrong. It’s a desirable neighborhood mainly because of it’s proximity to DT Seattle. It’s inevitable that following a boom in the Seattle economy this area would be developed. The funky I’m a rich Softie that wants to be a faux hipster was just added pressure. The displaced hipsters aren’t moving to Bellevue or Kirkland. They’re moving to the next great “undiscovered” neighborhood in Seattle. Nobody is being force, gun to head, to move “into car-dependent areas”. That’s a choice people make based on preference and economic sensibility. It’s only the transit Nazis that aspire to force a lifestyle on everyone.

      4. Tell that to all the poor people in Skyway and Kent who wish they had better bus service or, conversely, that they could afford to live in places with better bus service.

  3. Regarding the restrictions on eminent domain, this is one of those rare times when I agree with conservatives. It’s always struck me as extremely sketchy when the government takes property by force, not for some public purpose, but merely to pass it on to another private party (for private gain).

    1. This is one of those areas where conservatives and liberals have a lot in common. Just because someone is liberal doesn’t mean they like everything the government does, after all.

    2. I can’t remember anyone that spoke out that the SC’s opinion in Kelo v. New London was a fair one. They may have been right to the letter of the law, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

      1. That eminent domain for sketchy promises of economic growth — the barest-rational-basis scrutiny that the Kelo decision used to allow the taking as a “public good” — invariably involves moneyed interests running roughshod over the powerless, makes it very much a matter of concern to Lefties.

        Looking at the location of the SeaTac parking operation, it seems pretty clear that this taking wouldn’t have been integral to station construction. It would, however, be a better place for mixed airport-support services than for just another medium-term lot. The city should simply have worked with the developers to secure financing sufficient to make the lot owner an offer she couldn’t refuse.

      2. Honestly, it’s only the honest libertarians who actually have an issue with eminent domain on the right when it doesn’t involve cranky suburban NIMBYs.

      3. BA, that’s not what the constitution says. That’s what you say. The constitution grants the State the right to use Eminent Domain to acquire private property at fair value–and in most cases only after having offered a just proce before condemnation proceedings–for public purposes. All redevelopment programmes are public purposes regardless of how they are administered. The consquences of this may be bad and it may make the property owner unhappy, but it is not injust. Property rights only exist because of thr constitution, not in spite of it. Your property rights are not antecedent and you have no expectation that it will remain yours in perpetuity.

      4. SECTION 16 EMINENT DOMAIN. Private property shall not be taken for private use, except for private ways of necessity, and for drains, flumes, or ditches on or across the lands of others for agricultural, domestic, or sanitary purposes. No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation having been first made, or paid into court for the owner, and no right-of-way shall be appropriated to the use of any corporation other than municipal until full compensation therefor be first made in money, or ascertained and paid into court for the owner, irrespective of any benefit from any improvement proposed by such corporation, which compensation shall be ascertained by a jury, unless a jury be waived, as in other civil cases in courts of record, in the manner prescribed by law. Whenever an attempt is made to take private property for a use alleged to be public, the question whether the contemplated use be really public shall be a judicial question, and determined as such, without regard to any legislative assertion that the use is public: Provided, That the taking of private property by the state for land reclamation and settlement purposes is hereby declared to be for public use. [AMENDMENT 9, 1919 p 385 Section 1. Approved November, 1920.]

        There’s a great deal more specificity in that than you imply there is, Stephen.

        The entire section serves to discourage and to raise the burden of justification for any taking that might constitute a private transfer. It even manages to delineate the very limited circumstances in which private access to an eminently-taken right of way might be justified (first for drains and flumes, and then for topography-altering megaprojects like the Denny Regrade and the filling of SoDo, per the 1920 amendment), while still requiring judicial review for such takings on an individual basis.

        That’s a whole lot more restrictive than any guidelines that have ever been handed down by Federal Courts.

        While the Kelo decision threw wide the doors for defining any economic endeavor as a “public use”, and while SeaTac might have tried to make that wider argument, it would still have to have done so in Court, and in the face of State law that clearly manifests a much narrower intent.

      5. I would contend that any eventual reconveyance of the property still constitutes a public use, not a private use, even if the property eventually does become private at some point in the future either because a plan for redevelopment has been drafted or the property constitutes surplus land. Reading this quote does not appear that the State constitution is in conflict with Kelo. Other states have, however, tried to trump Kelo, which is disturbing.

    3. So how do we get to walkable neighborhoods around stations? SeaTac and the rest of the region are suffering because of automobile dependence. We can’t just leave it like that because over time it makes people cling even tighter to their cars and supporting highway widening and huge P&Rs at the expense of transit investment. So if we don’t use eminent domain, how do we get a walkable neighborhood near rapid transit in SeaTac?

      1. Why worry about SeaTac when most of Seattle is low density. It’s not like Capitol Hill, DT Bellevue, Northgate, etc. are anywhere close to being built out. The fundamental concept behind Link is to build out commuter rail and then infill with commuters. That’s the peanut butter approach, density spread real thin. East Link with the exception of DT Bellevue is all P&R “stations”; M.I., S. Bellevue, Whole Foods Hide & Ride, a new Bel-Red P&R, the Muffler District, Overlake Village P&R, Overlake TC P&R.

      2. Both of the Overlake Stations include P&R lots. Yes many MS employees will ride Link just as they use ST now. Many more will continue to ride the Connector buses from places like Maple Valley. It would be interesting to compare the numbers coming via the billion dollar light rail vs Connector. Any rate, MS is laid out like a giant office park and will generate very little off peak demand. East of DT Bellevue East Link will be virtually empty off peak.

      3. How do we get walkable neighborhoods around stations? Simple. Buy out the land owners for a mutually agreeable price and put in more dense buildings. Eminent domain shouldn’t be required here. If the market conditions don’t make such a project viable today, I think it’s fine to wait a while to develop outlying areas like SeaTac.

      4. “So if we don’t use eminent domain, how do we get a walkable neighborhood near rapid transit in SeaTac?”

        Short answer is we don’t use eminent domain for these purposes…ever.

        We use market forces, willing sellers, and if necessary patience. Liberty still means what’s mine is mine, and not yours to forcibly take from me – that’s not a liberal or conservative value – it’s our well grounded collective value.

      5. “We start off by not caring about building walkable neighborhoods in SeaTac.”

        There are 850,000 people in south King County, amost a third more than Seattle. We can’t write off such a large number of people and leave them no alternative to car dependence and half-hourly or hourly crawling buses and equally-long transfers. Especially because we to will have occasional reasons to go down there, and may in the future have to move there or take a job there if we can’t afford to live in Seattle or our most-compatible employer is down there.

      6. can’t write off such a large number of people and leave them no alternative to car dependence

        No amount of transit spending imaginable can do anything to change it for the vast majority of those 850,000. Can we afford to spend billions of dollars on HCT for a small portion of the population that doesn’t yet exist? It’s crazy to be expanding expectations for blanket transit coverage when the existing network is already “over taxed”. We need more transit because I might go there… sometime… even if I don’t really want to. Yeah, I can see that in the voters pamphlet “for” statement on ST3.

      7. It annoys me that transit advocates always fight against P&Rs in the suburbs, but also complain about people commuting into the city by car. If I can’t park at a P&R, what else am I supposed to do?

      8. I’m not against all P&R lots. I’m against providing free parking that in many cases costs more than the transit service we charge for. I can understand a public subside for transit. I can’t understand a public subside for parking. Joe Diamond isn’t going to cut you a deal if you drive downtown so why can’t transit parking compete at a market rate? You can pay $3 to park and $6 round trip (less the amount you save in gas) or you can pay $15 to drive and park DT and $100 for the blood pressure medicine required after said driving experience.

      9. I’d be willing to pay the $3, but I’d be pretty pissed on the days when I paid that $3 for the privilege of standing in the rain for a bus that never comes, and then driving in anyway.

      10. There are 850,000 people in south King County, amost a third more than Seattle. We can’t write off such a large number of people and leave them no alternative to car dependence and half-hourly or hourly crawling buses and equally-long transfers.

        Yes we can! Sound Transit is not a magic fairy that exists to grant the ability to have one’s cake and eat it too.

      11. I support P&Rs on the fringes of the system.

        However, it pisses me off when an old “legacy” P&R is preserved in perpetuity (or even expanded!) long after the transit system has expanded trunk service far beyond the location.

        See: Northgate.

      12. “No amount of transit spending imaginable can do anything to change it for the vast majority of those 850,000. Can we afford to spend billions of dollars on HCT for a small portion of the population that doesn’t yet exist? It’s crazy to be expanding expectations for blanket transit coverage when the existing network is already “over taxed”. We need more transit because I might go there… sometime… even if I don’t really want to. Yeah, I can see that in the voters pamphlet “for” statement on ST3.”

        You don’t think the large number of people in south King County who are on the bus now don’t want better transit connections? You don’t think that people who aren’t on transit now would get on it if it were more frequent/faster/more direct? That doesn’t make sense. We need to turn all the populated areas around in a more European direction, with walkability and transit everywhere, or at least pieces of it in every sizeable city. Maybe not Bonney Lake, but certainly Des Moines, Kent, and Auburn. The only way to start turning things around in a positive direction is to… actually turn them around. Yes, there’s limited money and Seattle has more need, but that’s not a reason to just do nothing.

      13. The only way to start turning things around in a positive direction is to… actually turn them around. Yes, there’s limited money and Seattle has more need, but that’s not a reason to just do nothing.

        Yes, turning the aircraft carrier around needs to be done. Not going in the wrong direction, enabling further development at the fringe, is doing something. It’s at least breaking the cycle of one step forward and two steps back in favor of one step forward for each step back. Seattle has “more need” only because it’s larger and more established. There’s plenty of “need” in Renton, Bellevue, and Lynnwood. You can waste money in Auburn, North Bend, et al or you can right the ship and focus on real density instead of peanut butter. Kent is not Asbury Park nor will it be this century.

      14. “Both of the Overlake Stations include P&R lots. Yes many MS employees will ride Link just as they use ST now. Many more will continue to ride the Connector buses from places like Maple Valley. It would be interesting to compare the numbers coming via the billion dollar light rail vs Connector.”

        It’s sort of an apples-to-oranges comparison, as a lot of the connector routes come from neighborhoods that Link will likely never serve, such as Bothell, Duvall, Sammamish, and Maple Valley. The connector route that would come closest to directly competing with Link is probably Capitol Hill, but if the 545 is any indicator, more people are taking that today than the connector. The connector is one 20-person bus every 20-30 minutes. The 545 is a 60-foot articulated bus every 10 minutes, often quite packed.

        For north Seattle, I don’t see Link being time-competitive with the Connector because of the slow local buses through Seattle to get to the station, plus the detour to I-90. Ballard and Queen Anne could one day have Link service that is time-competitive with the connector, but only if they are served by a fast subway to downtown, not the Crapid-Ride D they have today. Phinney Ridge, the transit options to reach the eastside are terrible for anyone who isn’t willing to bike at least as far as Montlake, and I don’t see that improving in the foreseeable future.

    1. They should only tool the exits, so it’d be free to go to Mercer Island, but $20 to get out.

    2. According to the WSDOT presentation, there are three alternative tolling portals. If they only toll the bridges to the west or only the East Channel Bridge, MI residents would be able to escape their prison without paying a toll. The other alternative would be just a partial toll to go one way or another. Mercer Islanders are a bunch of whiners.

      1. If they just toll the East Channel Bridge, then Mercer Islanders can get their special treatment for their Seattle commute back the big, bad people at Sound Transit are taking away from them!

    3. Maybe we could bring back the ferry from Seward Park! Oh wait, that charges a fare too. Funny, Bainbridge Island residents seem fine with taking the ferry to Seattle and back (even though walk-ons only pay fare on the way from Seattle) instead of driving the long way around…

      I have seen plenty of “NO TOLL ON I-90” signs on just the small sliver of Mercer Island I semi-regularly see.

      1. Even driving from Bainbridge, you encounter a toll at the Tacoma Narrows — unless you and went all the way down through Shelton and Olympia, which would be crazy. (Though the state feels the need to warn you clear back in Gorst that there’s a toll bridge ahead, so maybe some people are that dead-set against tolls!)

    4. It does seem that Mercer Islanders should get some sort of concession, but not all the way to unlimited free trips. When the Hadley bridge was being built in the 80s, I knew a woman who lived on Mercer Island with her sons and they came to my church in Bellevue. At various times either the Mercer Island Bridge or the East Channel Bridge would be closed, but never both at the same time. I asked her why and she said, “Because there are no hospitals on the island.”

      I’m not sure comparisions to Staten Island or Bainbridge or Vashon are apt. Staten Island is a lot larger and more self-contained, and both it and Vashon have never had a bridge but always relied on ferries. In Staten Island’s case the ferry is free. In Vashon’s case, everybody who moved to the island knew they’d have to pay a ferry fee, and roundtrip tolls are specifically charged to the island so that people can get off the island even if they run out of money. In Bainbridge’s case there’s a bridge on the other end of the island that will take you to a larger city (Silverdale or Bremerton) and eventually connects back to the “mainland” (Tacoma and Seattle).

      1. The SI Ferry has only been free since 1997. It was a gift Giuliani made to win votes.

        Granted, at the time the fare was 50 cents. According to BLS, that’s $0.72 in today’s money.

      2. Staten Island is a lot larger and more self-contained, and both it and Vashon have never had a bridge but always relied on ferries.

        SI has four bridges–all tolled–connecting it to mainland New Jersey (3) and Brooklyn (1).

      3. Ah, I never did make it to Staten Island. I was going to go but I was told it’s all pretty suburban so I didn’t spend the time.

      4. How about giving Mercer Islanders a certain number of free electronic one-use passes per month? That would allow moderate usage to get off the island a few times a week or to work or whatever, while ensuring that they pay if they cross the bridge every day or multiple round trips a day. It would be like how City Light offers a discount rate for the first N kWh to cover basic lighting and cooking, but charges a higher rate beyond that.

      5. I’m not sure why Rep. Clibborn prefers one free and one full-rate route off the island. Maybe she’s just against the WSDOT plan which seems to be to charge half the amount on the east channel and the other half on the floating bridge. It seems wasteful to double up the tolling structure. Why not charge full fare say WB on the floating bridge to Seattle and full fare EB on the east channel bridge. People going to from the eastside pay full fare both directions of their commute and Islanders get a 50% discount since they’ll only pay one direction.

        I do think it’s inherently unfair though to use the toll for any purpose other than the corridor where they are imposed. But in this case I think it’s an accounting semantic since I-90 was paid for with federal dollars and the State gas tax. Going forward there is going to be a lot of expensive work to fix the supports for the roadway across the Mercer Slough and maintenance of the old ferocement hulls on the Seattle side is expensive.

      6. I’d argue the number of fare dodgers using I-90 instead of SR-520 suggests that people treat them as basically the same corridor.

    5. I would imagine the toll would only be charged at one point on the bridge, not separately on either side of Mercer Island. If that’s the case, people living there could go to either Seattle or the Eastside for free, but not both.

      Hmm…free travel to one side of the lake, tolled travel to the other side. Seems completely and totally like Alcatraz to me.

      Why not ask the people who live there which side they care most about maintaining a free connection to, and install the tolling infrastructure in a spot that respects their wishes?

      1. The floating bridge between Seattle and Mercer Island was a toll bridge when it was first built. Toll booths were on the west side of the island.

        Reestablish the tolling line there again. Let islanders off the island free passage to the east as before.

      2. Huh, I didn’t know I-90 was ever tolled. According to WSDOT:

        The Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge was originally tolled when it opened in 1940 until 1949.

        That was a little before my time. I do remember the toll booths on 520 though.

      3. Makes sense to me. Not only is it historically accurate, but the eastern bridge is the cheaper one, anyway.

      4. The WSDOT link is mixing up its bridges. The first Lake Wash bridge was the Lacey V. Murrow bridge.

        The Murrow bridge was also the one that sank in the Thanksgiving windstorm. For those keeping score at home, that’s two out of the four WSDOT floating bridges that stopped floating at an inconvenient time.

  4. I’m confused. The WSDOT link you provide states that “traffic and revenue are right on target with forecast” on 520, and they “anticipate traffic and revenue will continue to meet projections.” If that is the case, then how come I’m hearing from Publicola that 520 is facing a funding shortfall and they will need to toll I-90 to close the shortfall?

    I think it is ridiculous that they want to toll I-90 in order to pay for 520. I-90 is the only remaining toll-free highway for people who need to cross the lake, such as so many of the working class that works on one side and live on the other.

    1. The 520 tolls were only expected to close the funding gap on the floating (until it sinks) section of the bridge. The funding for the west side, Lake Washington to I-5 was never identified. I-90 has high costs too; like replacing the expansion joints a few years back. It’s an accounting trick but the tolls on I-90 could be earmarked to cover costs of maintenance and repair thereby freeing up other revenue to complete SR-520. The State could start by just tolling the center roadway. Of course they’ve got less than 10 years before the tolling infrastructure would have to be moved because of East Link. Another option would be to accelerate the planned increases on 520 tolls. Clearly people are starting to accept the existing rates as congestion is often close to pre-toll levels.

      1. There has got to be another way to raise funds than tolling I-90. I’ve always been fine with the 520 toll, since people can take I-90 if they are willing to spend the extra time and gas to avoid the 520 toll. However, if I-90 gets tolled as well, it will create a major divide between Seattle and the Eastside, as people will try to avoid crossing the bridges if they can avoid it. The culture we have now, of many people living on one side and working on the other, or coming from their Eastside house to a Mainiers/Sounders/Seahawks game will erode. I have barely used 520 since the tolls started. If I-90 tolls start, I will probably stop going to the Eastside unless I really have to. I feel sorry for people with established commutes that cross the lake. They will either have to pay a toll twice a day or quit their jobs.

        Can’t they just raise property taxes on those living near 520 or something?

      2. “The culture we have now, of many people living on one side and working on the other, or coming from their Eastside house to a Mainiers/Sounders/Seahawks game will erode.”

        So people will travel less, and will be incentivized to travel by transit when they do travel? How is this bad?

      3. If things stay on schedule, I expect ST will get the center roadway for East Link construction in about 5 years. If WSDOT started working to toll the center roadway today, I expect it would be at least 12-18 months before they could get the equipment in place and operational. Seems like tolling the center roadway would not be worthwhile.

      4. I’ve always been fine with the 520 toll, since people can take I-90 if they are willing to spend the extra time and gas to avoid the 520 toll.

        If 520 is your best way across the lake, you are reasonably likely to spend more in gas (not to even mention time) to avoid it than you are on the toll, especially if you aren’t traveling at rush hour.

        Histrionics about small tolls really bug me. The cost of owning and operating a car is huge relative to the sorts of tolls we’re imposing on 520, especially for the occasional user like yourself. Cars impose large costs on both society and government (such as the cost of occasional bridge rebuild and expansion), and user fees are a very fair way to recover those costs. And, at least to attend a downtown or stadium event, there is also a transit alternative which allows for easy avoidance of tolls (the 255 over 520; the 550 or 554 over I-90).

        If we were talking about a $13 Holland Tunnel toll, that would be one thing. But we’re not. On a weekend, we’re talking $2.26 maximum.

      5. If you count gas, there is no free route across the lake whatsoever, except walking or biking along the I-90 trail. People just tend to whine more about tolls because they pay the toll right then, while the gas stays hidden until it comes time to fill up.

      6. Operating a bike, like operating a sail boat is not free. Screw the bridges. People can swim or take privately financed ferries. Of course the big loser would be Seattle as all of their Port business would flow to Tacoma.

    2. They really should toll I-90 just to return sanity to the I-5, I405 and I-90 corridors.

      All these toll evaders have really created a lot of congestion on those routes, and the quickest way to restore balance is to add the toll to I-90 too.

      I’m all for the toll on I-90 — and, yes, I do cross the lake.

      1. toll evaders have really created a lot of congestion

        Actually, not so much. I had feared that even though 520 would free up overall congestion would increase. That’s not what the data has shown. Many people have chosen transit which is a great thing. Many others have shifted their times to reduce peak capacity demand; sort of the holy grail. And a significant number have either combined trips or decided it really wasn’t that important after all. That’s the negawatt approach which is best of all; conservation eliminating demand.

    3. “I-90 is the only remaining toll-free highway for people who need to cross the lake,” ”

      Why do they need a toll-free way across the lake? There are toll-free routes around the lake.

      “such as so many of the working class that works on one side and live on the other.”

      Oh. Well, that’s what we’re building Link for. And the buses across the bridges should be more frequent off-peak anyway. And we should make sure that workplaces are within walking distance of transit. So no more approving of isolated office parks in the middle of nowhere.

    1. No, $4B is what it’s going to cost in year of expenditure dollars. Just the I-90 section is $1B and it’ll be north of half a billion to tunnel under Bellevue. I suspect the money for the MF is also rolled into the loan; ring up another 1/4 billion. But I’m wondering what happened to the pay as you go for 50% of the project?

      1. Maybe they’re also including the cost of R8A phase 3 in the loan amount.

        Is a TIFIA loan like a bond where you get the principal up front, or is it like a construction loan where you draw on it as you build things? If the latter, they could still do the PAYGO on the 50%. There must be a reason it will take ten effing years to build the thing.

  5. I do not like the idea of a tiered price system for transit, using income as the criteria. In my humble opinion, it is politically dangerous to mix the government’s role of investing in transportation infrastructure with social service programs. I think social services should be fully funded, but public transit (like highways and airports) should not be seen as a social safety net program. If the functions of mass transit and social services become interchangeable, it jeopardizes the broad support transit enjoys (particularly) in the PNW. There are plenty of places across the US where mass transit is seen by the middle class as a “poor person” shuttle bus…and suffers because of that mentality.

    1. Agreed.

      But it’s possible to get around this by making the multi-tier fare structure discreet and invisible.

      Make the lower fare ORCA-only, and do the social service work at the stage where people are obtaining low-fare ORCA cards. Don’t make any references to the low fare on farebox signs.

    2. That may be, but it’s been established here for decades here that transit agencies give direct concessions to elderly/disabled/poor people. That can be seen as part of a vision that all agencies do this as it applies to them. We can change this structure but it would be a long-term restructure, and we must keep our eye on the urgent issue of improving overall transit in the meantime.

  6. It’s shocking that auto user’s fees only cover 51% of the cost of our road system.

    I’m tired of all this whining by State officials that they don’t have enough funding to maintain our road system — we clearly only have this shortfall because they are unwilling to raise the cost of driving to the level required for drivers to pay for the roads they drive on.

    It’s time to raise the cost of driving and unskew the economics of transportation.

      1. For the most part, yes, roads exist mainly for cars.

        Yes, there is some freight, but these shippers should contribute “full boat” to the roads for their use just like car drivers should.

        And if having shippers pay more drives up costs, then so be it. And if increased roads fees drive some freight to rail, then so be it, because having more freight on rail is a good thing.

      2. And are you “shocked” that transit fares pay only 25% of the operations and maintenance, nothing toward capital cost and nada toward the roads they rely on? How much is property worth if fire trucks can’t access it via roads? Should we tack on weight based fees to our fire protection levies? I can’t think of anyone that isn’t dependent on our roads irregardless of whether of not they own a car.

      3. Not at all. Remember the full funding for (most) transit systems is voter approved. No such thing has ever occurred for roads.

        But, yes, if the road interests were dedicated to fully funding roads with a combination of user fees and voter approved road taxes (just like most transit systems), then I’d be all for it.

        But the State will never propose such a thing because they know the voters would never approve taxes high enough to fully pay for roads. So instead they divert other taxes without voter approval and then whine about high-mileage cars cutting into gas tax revenue.

        So either put high road taxes to a vote of the people, or raise the user fees high enough to pay the full cost.

      4. The size of roads, and therefore their maintenance costs, are exponentially higher when 80% of people drive everywhere, compared to the miniscule needs required by transit, emergency vehicles, freight, and gardeners driving around with their tools. Buses themselves need only two-lane roads, and rail needs only two tracks. Half or more of our highway lanes and arterial lanes could be eliminated if they didn’t have to support everybody’s SOV.

      5. Half or more of our highway lanes and arterial lanes could be eliminated if they didn’t have to support everybody’s SOV.

        But they do because transit only supports a tiny fraction of trips and does a pretty piss poor job for most of that. The Interstate and the State Highways are paid for with gas tax and user fees. The arterials on which our city economies depend on and residential streets are paid for with sales tax and property taxes. How is that not charging the benefactors of those roads?

      6. Remember the full funding for (most) transit systems is voter approved.

        BS, almost half of Central Link funding was federal grants. RapidRide, federal grants. The CRC, not voter approved. The in kind funding like not paying fuel taxes never went up for a vote. Try putting this on the ballot, we’ll cut your property taxes and stop maintaining local roads. The public votes down some of the funding measures because they don’t want new mega projects like the deep debt tunnel. Other measures like increasing the gas tax have a hard time because the State failed to deliver decent value or what was promised. Like the Nickle a gallon that was, among a boat load of other projects supposed to fund replacements for the old steel electric ferries. Instead WSF spent the allotted money on two engines that never made it out of the crate.

      7. “But they do because transit only supports a tiny fraction of trips and does a pretty piss poor job for most of that.”

        That’s because the transit infrastructure is so bad and doesn’t deliver a trip competitive with driving. You can’t kick somebody and then get mad at them for cringing in pain. Likewise, you can’t cripple transit infrastructure and then say it’s useless because people aren’t using it. The reason they’re not using it is that it’s crippled, so it’s a vicious circle.

        “The public votes down some of the funding measures because they don’t want new mega projects like the deep debt tunnel.”

        Oops, they did vote for that. But if ST2 Link and the transit master plan and real frequent buses with signal priority had been in place twenty years ago, a lot more people would be taking transit now, and probably enough to tip the scale to voting down the tunnel.

      8. Your confused. The tunnel idea was voted down. The politicians, Nickels and Gregoire front and center said, ah, yes but you didn’t vote down this more expensive tunnel we cooked up so we’ll build it anyway. Funding? We don’t need no stinking funding! Transit funding is crippled, to use your word because it’s so expensive to try and provide for the vast majority of trips people actually want to take. Even with my pig of a van the marginal cost to drive is less than transit fare that only covers 25% of the cost to deliver me to work. And it takes almost five times longer. The problem with KC Metro is that it’s trying to be all things to all people instead of concentrating on where it can succeed.

      9. Even McGinn said the people voted for the tunnel at the last vote. Granted that the measure was very indirect, and that the politicians did shenanigans to get the tunnel going in the first place. But the people had the chance to give the tunnel a resounding disapproval and they didn’t.

      10. . Granted that the measure was very indirect,

        What measure? The Deep Debt Tunnel was signed, sealed, delivered in a backroom done deal. It still lacks any sort of financing plan and, like the 520 “safer bridge” pushed though without a completed EIS.

      11. The referendum on whether the city should “give notice” to the state that the DBT’s building permits were approved. Even though it was on an arcane matter, it was widely viewed as a symbolic referendum on whether Seattlites wanted the tunnel to go through.

      12. The vote is not the point. A direct popular vote isn’t how we should decide issues like the DBT. We should be able to rely on informed, responsible public officials to make good decisions. Unfortunately the public officials we had ignored all the problems with the DBT and pushed it anyway. Instead of addressing the problems with the plan, which were certainly brought to their attention, they built an aura of inevitability behind it, as if they wanted it to happen for reasons other than broad public interest.

    1. I disagree. Subsidized transportation is one of the magic elixirs behind modern productivity gains and economic growth. The issue is that we subsidize it lopsidedly. If you look at roads and transit in isolation, we subsidize transit a bit more than we do roads. But if you look at how we regulate land use, we (still) provide massive incentives to build in a manner that almost requires individual car transport for most trips.

      I’m fine with subsidizing transport, including roads, if it’s done in a balanced way… because I think it’s better for everyone.

      1. The thing is, very little of our transit spending at the local, State or federal level does anything to change land use patterns or allow an automobile optional lifestyle. In many cases it’s the exact opposite. Take Sounder “sprawl rail” for instance. Nobody builds a house out in Auburn and lives car free. The commute subside allows them to keep the F250 in the driveway for all other trips. The WSF system (technically part of our highways in WA) is the worst offender. P&R lots are Metro, ST, CT and PT’s bread and butter enabling people to live miles from work rather than weigh the cost of living closer vs paying the cost of transportation.

      2. But what would happen if Sounder weren’t there? The alternative is not no investment at all, because people vote in their districts for mobility. So the alternative is widening freeways and access roads and building more highways.

      3. But what would happen if Sounder weren’t there?

        If people didn’t get a free ride many wouldn’t locate out there in the first place. If we stop approving mega developments out in places like Boonie Lake we wouldn’t need to build more freeway lanes. But hand out free fast commute trips and that development will continue and more lanes will get built because everything besides the commute will be by private auto.

      4. People are going to live out there anyway, because the rents are affordable. We can’t all sit on Capitol Hill and wait to be pushed out by the next developer who comes along. We have housing policies that basically favor building luxury high-rises at the expense of everyone else. As the city gentrifies, more and more people are going to be pushed out to the suburbs.

      5. Sounder is not free. I doubt hardly anybody moves to Auburn because of Sounder, who wouldn’t move there without Sounder. They should be aware that Sounder could disappear at any time. Especially Sounder North which is subject to mudslides in winter. And they are well aware it runs only peak hours, and is thus irrelevant to most of their trips, which are not to work but to the supermarket, schools, shopping, friends, etc.

        Yes, the exurbs are generally subsidized with highway interchanges and water pipes and schools. Those are the things that brought most of the residents to the exurbs. Sounder, or BART, or Link, is not one of them. At most they play a tiny role. If 50% of exurbanites were on commuter transit, then you could say it plays a major role in creating the exurb or keeping it populated, but not when the commuter transit rate is 2%.

      6. Indeed. No one moves from Seattle to Auburn because of the Sounder. It’s effective in some edge cases, though; it might cause them to move to Auburn instead of, say, Federal Way.

        Attempts to develop more density around the Sounder stations tanked when the commercial real estate bubble popped, a bit before the housing bubble did. Until recently in Kent you could see the results in the form of a half-built abandoned parking garage.

        I took the Sounder regularly when I lived in Kent. (Now I take the 197 express bus.) Figuring in wait times and the transfer to the slow 7x bus at King Street, it wasn’t faster than driving, but it was less stressful and somewhat cheaper.

      7. There is plenty of affordable housing a lot closer in than Auburn. People moved out there when gas was cheap and the roads hadn’t yet become congested. This isn’t New York/New Jersey where you need heavy rail to haul passengers into the city. Cheap gas is gone. Congestion is only going to get worse. Drive out to Auburn and you’ll see lots of abandon houses. There’s really no reason to invest huge amounts of capital that only serves to prop up poor land use decisions of the past. Especially when it only increases the temptation to build more roads. The idea of TOD around stations is a band-aid for a self inflicted wound.

      8. I’ve looked for that “affordable housing” and found it pretty thin on the ground once you get north of Tukwila. There’s some in east Renton, sure, but that area has even worse transit and road connections than the exurbs. Going north there’s some in Shoreline, but it’s all along the Aurora crime-and-prostitution corridor.

        As for Seattle proper, even if I could afford something there now, it’d only be a matter of time before I got pushed out so it could be renovated for rich people.

      9. There’s not much housing directly north of Tukwila but Georgetown and Skyway have lots of it. There’s still gobs of affordable housing in the RV that I don’t think you’ll have to worry about being pushed out of any time soon. Lake City is still affordable as are White Center and Burien. If you don’t think crime is a problem in far flung places like Monroe and Auburn you haven’t lived there. Of course there’s the whole Kent thing which is way closer than Auburn. On the eastside affordable housing abounds near Crossroads. Redmond, not so much. Kirkland Totem Lake has 10-20 years before you have to worry too much about gentrification.

      10. The times I’ve been to Skyway…it didn’t look like somewhere I wanted to be after dark. I remember going to the Skyway Bowl and seeing a pimp hanging out in the parking lot, fur coat and all; a few months later someone was shot there. Granted, crimes happen in Auburn and Kent but they’re mostly confined to a few neighborhoods; the portions I lived in were quite safe. Certainly I never had any of the drug deals or discarded condoms that my Seattle-dwelling coworkers complained about.

        Burien and Kent aren’t really much closer than Auburn in terms of commute time; having lived in both Kent and Auburn, the difference was less than 15 minutes. Commute differences between suburbs in the Midway and Green River Valley areas are pretty minor, because at least half the time, by bus or by car, is just to get from mid Boeing Field to the I-90 interchange. Going to the U district the Sounder is not actually any faster than the 197 Express, although it is much easier to bike to if you’re in Kent.

      11. 15 minutes is 15 miles more of sprawl. It’s only 10 minutes difference in commute time between Issaquah and North Bend but literally a world of difference in impact to the environment. There’s a ready made railroad grade out to North Bend. Should we build commuter rail? I mean people are moving out there already so might as well pour money into transit funding, right?

      12. So, most of those affordable areas Bernie mentioned are the same places I’ve been saying are underserved by transit. Rainier Valley and Crossroads are obviously the exceptions. Still, while Rainier Valley may have affordable or subsidized apartments left, the options for buying are a different picture. My friend who’s a second-generation Rainier Valleyite looked for over a year for a house under $300K, and eventually bought something in SeaTac. He said, “If only I had bought a house or condo in Rainier Valley in the early 90s.”

      13. Lake City is under served by transit??? Hokey smokes Bullwinkle. Burien Town Square is a classic example of “build it and they will come” transit ahead of the horse. But if you really believe these areas are under served how do you intellectually justify spending train loads of money on Auburn? Money is free we just need to print more? Perhaps you just haven’t dreamed up a better way to separate investment from reality. May I suggest the magic hydrogen bus.

      14. Yeah, very true, Mike. The situation isn’t quite as bad as it was before the housing bubble popped, but people who make less than six figures are still very much in a “drive until you qualify for the mortgage” situation.

        When it comes to apartments in Seattle, I think part of the problem is I’m in that middle tier that doesn’t qualify for subsidized housing, but can’t afford the $1500-and-up rents that are otherwise required to live there.

      15. Orv: in the 19th century, the housing-for-impoverished-workers problem was solved by the *employers building the housing*.

        At this point, with “low taxes for the rich, high taxes for the poor, break the unions” policies having been in place for 40 years, with the middle class being shoved aggressively into the lower class, and with the lower class unable to afford to live, we may have to go right back to that. Keep up these trends, and employers will not be able to hire workers unless they provide housing, because at the low wage and salary rates, there will be no affordable housing.

        The situation where the employer provides housing is sustainable. Undesirable, probably, but sustainable: it’s worked in many places for thousands of years.

  7. Right now Route 211 starts at Virginia Mason, heads down Boren, swings around on James and Jefferson to serve Harborview, continues down Jefferson to Swedish Cherry Hill, heads down 23rd, and then goes back on Jackson to serve King St Station and get on the freeway at a point where it can also serve Rainier Freeway Station.

    What would you think of the 211 staying on 23rd to Massachusetts and getting on the freeway at Rainier? I have to imagine it would make the 211 more reliable and actually useful to anyone trying to get to the hospitals. There are plenty of other ways to get to King St Station; heck, if you’re trying to get to Swedish Cherry Hill or Harborview the 3 or 4 takes you most of the way there already! I have a sinking feeling that if the 211 actually becomes a useful way to get to Eastgate (and dropping South Bellevue is a big step towards that), it’ll fill up with commuters at 5th and Jackson trying to avoid the 212 like the plague.

    1. What is so bad about the 212 that everyone tries to avoid it? I drove it on a number of occasions and I just don’t understand. It’s direct, frequent (at rush hour), and not *that* crowded.

    2. I would completely support a 23rd Ave routing for the 211, but only once the FHSC opens. Two other things would have to happen: (1. the 211 would have to use the general-purpose lanes on I-90 (because you can’t access the Rainier exit from the express lanes) and (2. S Massachusetts St would require a transit reclassification to at least a “Minor Transit Street”. Once those were done, it could easily follow its current routing from Convention Place to Cherry Hill, then take the shortcut to I-90 via 23rd/Massachusetts.

  8. Any restriction on Eminent Domain is stupid. If the State prevents public entities from acquiring property via eminent domain for any public purpose (e.g. like New London), the State will be restricting its ability to drive economic development through redevelopment programmes. That IS a public use, too.

  9. I wonder if it would be helpful if more people complained to Metro about the VA loop. This was the reply I got after I wrote to them after seeing 4 50/60 buses stuck in the backup going into the parking lot.

    “Yes, the deviation of routes 50 and 60 to the VAMC takes time and does not meet the deviation guideline. The deviation of Route 60 takes more time and has larger passenger loads. Yes, it is a political issue. Route 36 serves the back entrance of the VAMC on Beacon Avenue South. On the other hand, some users are vulnerable and have mobility impairment. We would have to calculate if there were savings from faster running times on routes 50 and 60 and whether they could cover the cost of a van. The savings from each route separately may not allow a unit to be pulled from their schedules. Thanks.”

  10. Metro drivers just need to stop running red lights. Every time one does, it’s another vote or two against whatever funding package comes down the pike.

    (Just a little steamed after watching a RR C and then a 40 run the same light at 3rd/Marion SB on consecutive cycles… both entered the intersection significantly after the light turned red, and both could have stopped with complete safety. There are situations where slightly running a red is the best of bad choices, and neither of these buses was remotely in such a situation.)

    1. I get so used to it as a passenger that I’m a little disappointed when the driver doesn’t run it.

    2. They also love to gridlock intersections by stopping in the middle of them. Especially in the U District.

  11. I’m glad that the most urban and downtown-adjacent Tacoma Streetcar proposals are winning out. I was afraid they might blow it on an Eastside line for social or grant reasons, that would have low ridership and spur little growth. The Stadium area, 6th Ave, MLK, and 19th have the most potential to attract residents and TOD investment because you have direct access not only to what’s in your own neighborhood but in all the surrounding neighborhoods. On a larger scale that’s why Seattle’s Center City (Capitol Hill, First Hill, SLU, Belltown, Uptown, Pioneer Square, Chinatown) work so well, because you have the advantage of not just what’s in your own neighborhood but what’s in the immediate-surrounding neighborhoods. That doesn’t happen when your neighborhood is an island with low density around it.

  12. Sound Transit had a new locomotive delivered earlier this week, SDRX 921. Anyone know anything about it? I saw it in the Holgate yard on Monday.

    1. It is one of three new locomotives Sound Transit ordered. They were supposed to be delivered in mid-late 2012 but got delayed.

      It is a MPI MP40PH-3C (Motive Power Industries, Boise, Idaho)

      The other 2 should be here next month. The 921 is going into service/testing next week or two.

  13. First UK integrated hydrogen transport system to launch in London and South East

    These developments will create the first network of 700 bar hydrogen fuelling stations in the UK, ready to meet increasing demand for hydrogen fuelling. The functionality of this network will then be proved by a fleet of hydrogen vans which will be operated by Commercial Group as part of its delivery network.


  14. As to sending freight down the Kirkland rail corridor… if these companies wanted to do that, they should have bought the tracks when they were for sale. It’s ridiculous to come to Kirkland with suggestions for what to do with its land that aren’t in its interest — it would make more sense to come to Kirkland with giant sacks of cash and try to buy it off them.

    1. I thought that the owners of the Spirit of Washington dinner train that used to run on the corridor offered to purchase and completely take over the tracks from BNSF and continue running the dinner trains but BNSF rebuffed their offer and instead sold to the corridor to the King County since they offered more money for it?

      1. I don’t know where/who you got that impression from but it’s completely false and doesn’t even come close to addressing the complexity of the issue. (sub)Urban myth; nip it in the bud. Short story is Spirit of Washington dinner train business was sold and the new owners decided to relocate to the south. They failed miserably for numerous reasons. Parties affiliated with the original ownership have been involved with attempts to create a Snohomish-Woodinville contemporary but it’s been clouded by a string of dubious business deals.

  15. Hmmmm…. Bridge tolling in King County is making people switch to transit. Maybe that is the way to get more people to care about Pierce Transit.

    Maybe we should start tolling the Tacoma narrows bridge. Oh, wait, nevermind. As an observation, the city of Gig Harbor did pass prop 1.

    Maybe we should toll the SR 509 bridge to S 21 st. That way, commuters from NE Tacoma will want to take the bus downtown. Oh, wait, that won’t work because PT is eliminating service in NE Tacoma. Plus, who is going to want to ride the 62, then transfer to the 500, and see the great sights of Fife and Milton before getting back into the city they started in?

    RIP route 61. Your absence from the prop 1 success plan was heartbreaking.

    If this Tacoma TBD thing works out, maybe we could see a return of route 61. It would only need to be modified to not go to the Twin Lakes P&R to be Tacoma only.

  16. It’s awesome that transportation groups, like TCC, are lining up behind the low-income fare proposal, especially since the county council has now created the Low Income Fare Policy Advisory Committee, expects a report from said committee in June, and has directed Metro to include the results of the report in the fare restructure that is supposed to be in the Executive’s office in August. I predict nine votes for the not-yet-made low-income fare proposal to pass, if it is done affordably and in a way that won’t set off alarms with other sectors of the public.

    Yes, I said fare *restructure*. But don’t get too dreamy-eyed about complicated distance-based fare systems or anything else that would require big capital upgrades. The centerpiece of the restructure is that fares are going up, but the door is open for it to be something other than a regressive across-the-board 25-cent increase. Think of how this could be done being fare-recovery-neutral, while taking the hit of creating the low-income ORCA.

    Fare recovery was 27% last year. The council, I am told, wants to keep fare recovery at at least 25%. One very useful chart I saw last night broke down ridership into income categories (ridership, not boardings). It didn’t break down how many in each category were already using a youth, senior, or disabilities ORCA, or were only riding when provided free tickets. The chart showed 27% of riders earning 25,000 or less per year. I didn’t catch if that is “household” or whatever. If roughly a quarter of riders take advantage of the low-income ORCA, and get roughly 2/3 of their fare waived, that would drop fare recovery by about 1/6, to approximately 22%. It would be a little bit over 1% of Metro’s operating budget. That’s just to put a top figure on the operating cost of rolling out a low-income ORCA.

    Of course, that figure would be mitigated by operational savings and additional fare revenue from people who weren’t riding because of the high fare. That figure is probably much higher than reality because among people who could qualify for a low-income ORCA, many already have a reduced fare card, and those who use free tickets are, by definition, among the 27%. Many who qualify would not be aware of the program, or aware they qualify. Working poor who qualify and want the card might have trouble getting to the places where they could obtain it during business hours. At any rate, my point is that the creation of a low-income ORCA should end up being less than a 1% hit to Metro’s operating budget.

    Three points of warning:

    (1) The low-income ORCA is no substitute for the free tickets for social service agency clients who cannot afford bus fare at all. Nor is this program working the way it was intended. Some agencies make their limited supply of tickets stretch by giving each client only one ticket, and some by not supplying tickets for accompanying family members over the age where toddlers can ride free. Don’t forget that the agencies *purchase* these “free” tickets at a rebate. On top of that, they have a heavy paperwork cost, entering the time, date, and name of each ticket recipient. That program is likely going to take up a lot of the committee’s time making it less burdensome on human service agencies.

    (2) The movement behind the low-income fare is not focused on ORCA. We could end up with a low-income fare card that might not even be ORCAized, or if ORCAized, might be used as a flash pass to pay with cash and change, wiping out the operational efficiencies that could have helped fund making the low-income fare available. I’m hopeful that Metro will push the conversation toward a sane pro-rider proposal that pushes ORCA use.

    (3) Sound Transit is not represented on the LIFPAC. They are aware and watching, but don’t assume anything about whether ST will honor the low-income ORCA.

    1. A lower fare tier will not work operationally if it’s not exclusively bound to ORCA. Full stop.

      If it’s not, we need to shift gears and oppose it. The last thing Metro passengers (of all incomes) need is a further operational nightmare created by fare policy.

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