Unhappy cities consider severing ties with Pierce Transit

This is an open thread.

UPDATE: Broken King 5 video embed removed — BJAN.

73 Replies to “News Roundup: Secession”

  1. From the runaway ST bus story, I recommend people click the accompanying link, which takes you to the KOMO website about the crash. In the comment section, about four entries down, there’s a riveting account of what happened by a commenter called “passenger,” who was on the bus the night of the crash.

  2. This probably won’t go anywhere, sadly. It’s just like the clueless conservatives in eastern Washington who continually go on about the West side soaking up most transport dollars, while ignoring how the population distribution in the state means that per-capita, it is the rural East that gets subsidized.

    But, for Tacoma’s sake, I hope it does. Be careful what you wish for, suburbs: you just might get it.

  3. The ST bus crash is a mystery. Reading the passenger’s account that Sam referenced above, I get the impression that it may have been a combination of mechanical failure and a driver who was panicking or in shock and unable to respond correctly.

    But what sort of mechanical failure could cause this kind of accident? Loss of air pressure would have triggered the spring brakes, which might not have stopped the bus in time to avoid the accident, but would not have allowed the bus to roll another half mile back down the hill. From the passenger’s account there seemed to be transmission trouble, or at least trouble in the electronic transmission controller. But transmission trouble shouldn’t have affected the brakes, which are mechanically actuated. I will be very interested to see the results of the investigation.

    And if a mechanical failure does turn out to be partially or completely to blame, I hope we take a good hard look at the practice of subcontracting transit operations out to the lowest bidder…

    1. Out of ignorance, laziness, and limited time, let me ask the question:

      Who does maintenance for ST’s fleet?

      1. The entity operating the service.

        For Metro-operated service (both bus and Link), Metro. For PT-operated service, PT. For CT-operated service, CT’s subcontractor, First Transit.

        First Transit’s pool of mechanics is not exactly like those at the two public agencies…

      2. Sound Transit is a paper entity. They contract out almost everything and simply slap their logo on it. In King County, Metro mechanics maintain their buses. In other counties, other agencies handle it. But there is no such thing as a Sound Transit bus mechanic, or ST bus driver, or ST bus base, or ST bus supervisor, or ST bus washer, or ST Link operator, and on, and on, and on. They rake in the money, pay themselves 100K to think up bad ideas, then pay real transit agencies to do the work. That’s why you will never get on any ST bus and see a driver wearing an ST uniform.

      3. The only thing St does is drive Tacoma link. central link is a metro operation. Community transit only uses first transit for its commuter and sound transit routes (400s 800s and 510 511 512 and 535). locals are operated by ct.

    2. It is possible to have a mechanical failure with the brakes that would not cause the spring brakes to apply.

      The brake pedal is mounted to the top of a rubber-covered plywood floor. A rod coming off the pedal goes down to a hole in the floor and into the treadle valve which actually sends the air through the brake lines. The treadle valve is generally mounted to the bottom of the same plywood floor. It is possible for the treadle valve assembly to break free of the floor … when you push on the pedal the rod that goes through the floor doesn’t do anything because there is nothing for it to push AGAINST, as the treadle valve is just suspended under the floor but not mounted to anything.

      I’ve seen it happen on an air brake vehicle.

      1. My treadle valve on my Wanderlodge went out a few years ago. That was real fun to replace. Strangely enough, it is possible to have no brakes and still be able to drive the vehicle, and damn scary at that.

    3. Transmission failure doesn’t affect the brakes, but brake failure does affect the transmission. The drive train won’t engage if there’s inadequate air pressure in the system.

  4. Talk of secession from Metro occurred in Kent, Auburn and Renton back in the early ’90s. Issaquah and other suburban cities made their displeasure known to the County Council, resulting in a reshuffling of the deck chairs and more service to the suburbs. 40-40-20 to grow the system was adopted and a decade latter the pendulum swung back towards it’s abolishment. So much for the history lesson.
    Transit seems to grow in spurts and cycles in reaction to economic cycles and our congestion misery index.
    I suspect the well is dry in Pierce County for some time to come, and going it alone, in theory, is more expensive than being part of an efficient agency. Maybe local control, using a different cost model is better in their case.

  5. [H]ydrogen-fueled zero-emissions bus rolls through Marin

    The zero-emissions bus, powered by hydrogen fuel cells, is rolling through the county’s streets and on Highway 101, part of a state plan to cut the amount of diesel pollutants standard buses spew into the air.

    The bus, paid for by federal, state, local and private grants, is free of emissions aside from a little water that trickles out of its tailpipe. It will run on Golden Gate Transit routes for about two years as transit officials judge its performance.


      1. As “out there” as it sounds, we’re just scratching the surface for potentially accessing naturally forming hydrogen as one possible source.

        Can Naturally Occurring Hydrogen Be Used as Fuel?

        The gist of the article is that in some parts of the world hydrogen gas occurs naturally (which is a paradox since it is often said that hydrogen doesn’t occur by itself in nature) and this is a potential source of fuel for cars, stationary fuel cells and other devices.

        According to IFP Energies Nouvelles, translated into English, “After exploratory work which showed that natural emissions of continuous H2 meet frequently on earth IFPEN launching a new research program that focuses on their potential for industrial exploitation …


      2. Hydrogen isn’t the least bit difficult or expensive to reproduce. Run as current through H2O and separate the molecules. It’s why they put the stuff in zeppelins until the Hindenburg.

      3. Yes, but the efficiency of that process sucks — it takes as much power to electrolyze the hydrogen as you’ll get back when you burn it, and then on top of that you have to compress it for storage. And hydrogen is notoriously difficult to store.

        I really don’t see the “hydrogen economy” making any sense unless we develop a new, cheap source of electric power. At present, most hydrogen comes from natural gas, which means it’s no solution to global warming.

      4. What Orv said. The thing is that it’s simply cheaper to use the electricity directly. Even batteries are more efficient than electricity-hydrogen-electricity. (Unless you’re building a Zeppelin, for which weight matters a great deal.)

        If there is naturally occurring, concentrated hydrogen, sure, we can use that. There isn’t going to be a lot of it.

    1. Just returned from Snoqualmie-Mt. Baker Alternative Transit meeting at Valley View library, and presented idea for using hydrogen bus technology for access to national parks. I said it would be a natural “green” fit for the project. They seemed open to investigating the concept.

      1. I like the idea, but you have to consider the realities of cost.

        At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself if you would rather have half the number of trips per day, in exchange for the bus being hydrogen powered. At the end of the day, I think most riders would prefer the bus that runs more frequently.

    1. Playing with fire, given Subaru’s left-leaning buyer base.

      (Full disclosure: I own a Subaru, and find this disappointing.)

      1. On some routes, this is actually true, so its not too far off the mark. Majority of the time, no though.

        People are too easily offended these days.

      2. It’s been almost a year since I sold my Subaru and have been thrilled with the decision. They are great in the snow, but are generally gas guzzlers and are a bit fussy to maintain. (Blow one tire badly enough, you have to replace all four or risk trashing the AWD transmission). The fact that Subaru has been slow to improve gas mileage in their fleet had already soured me on their brand. This kind of cheap shot is puts them one step above GM in my mind.

      3. Funny you say that: my other car is a GM.

        My Subie (usually driven by my wife) gets pretty lousy gas mileage, but the AWD system is head and shoulders above the crappy Haldex systems in the competition, and there are a lot of other things I really like about the car. It’s been a good choice for a couple that loves the mountains.

        But anti-transit advertising was not a feature I was looking for when I bought.

      4. Agree. I owned 3 Subaru GL wagons. Best cars I’ve ever had, just outgrew them.

      5. In some sense, it’s smart because it shows that they know where their marginal customer is. Their next customer is not going to be the Alabaman exurbite who votes red – its going to be a left leaner who wants to do good but has enough money to give up when it’s hard / not worth it. These ads tap directly into this niche.

    2. As bad as these ads are, it shows that car ad firms feel threatened by transit. That is why these ads only show up in Canadian media. Transity just isn’t considered a bit enough threat to advertisers in the US.

    3. Heh. All those things are true. I ride the bus anyway, but I’d never argue it’s clean, quiet, or peaceful. But I’m not one to put on the hair shirt and then complain it itches.

  6. Orca cards available for sale at all QFC’s that previously reloaded them. Same $5 fee to purchase and come unloaded. Also available for purchase at the Vashon Thriftway.

  7. Ok, so I was dead wrong about Beyond the Borders being considered as a possible public transit agency. When my dad (who works in fife) told me about a new transit agency for east Pierce, this is what he was talking about.

    My thoughts: PT kinda had it coming. They are slow moving, quick to cut (Remember, they said originally in 2010 that they were going to cut routes 3, 57, and 53 if prop 1 didn’t pass). They never had an efficient way to serve local neighborhoods. East Pierce was obviously hit the hardest, and if you live there, come September, you only get regular PT bus service if you can walk to E Meridian, Main Avenue, E 72nd St, the portion of River Road with bus stops, and Pacific Highway East. If you are in walking distance of the Sumner Sounder Station, you get all day service via the 578 (and you are also the luckiest transit rider east of Puyallup.)

    I have always been for PT since the only alternative was no transit service. But in this case, there is a viable alternative, and I would support this for a variety of reasons:

    1: A new agency would have a “clean record,” so the anti-prop 1 campaign cannot use their most heavily used argument against transit.
    2: The obvious reason is that East Pierce wouldn’t have all of their money going to Tacoma, and they would get the service they paid for.
    3: Transit service might be restored to Prarie Ridge, Spanaway, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Graham, even Buckley.
    4: Pierce Transit could put almost all of their focus toward the only cities that they really care about: Tacoma excluding Northeast Tacoma, and the immediate surrounding area that isn’t east of Tacoma.
    5: This will actually end up good for Pierce Transit because their service area would now exclude all of the major city leaders against Prop 1 (like Puyallup, but I think all of East Pierce except a portion of Fife Heights rejected prop 1), so the new service would pass the .9% tax with insanely high margins.

    And I think that this is also a great example of why it is such a bad idea to consolidate all of the local agencies into a “mega-agency” for the whole Puget Sound region, because if sometimes even a *county* agency isn’t going to work out, then consolidating 4 counties into a single agency is a terrible idea, and eventually we would see individual areas withdrawing, creating an even more fragmented system of agencies than we see today.

    Go for it, Fife. Go make a bright future for yourself, along with your neighbors. You deserve it, despite what PT says.

    Maybe NE Tacoma and Purdy should create North Pierce Transit, and Stielacoom (did I spell that right?), JBLM, U-Place and DuPond should create West Pierce Transit.

    1. If I recall correctly, Lakewood didn’t vote for Prop 1 either. Yet, it’s Pierce’s second largest city.

      East Pierce is suburban sprawl and it costs more per passenger mile to service them. Do they honestly expect to have service on par with denser Tacoma for what they contribute to the system?

      Given that traffic jams in Tacoma are as bad or worse than Seattle, I’m inclined to say that East Pierce can go it alone and reap what they have sown for themselves and let Tacoma which has a fighting chance of revitalizing its urban core do just that.

      1. Lakewood rejected it, but not by that much. Puyallup by far generated the most no votes of any city. So while Lakewood is anti-transit overall, they are not full on Pierce Transit intolerant like basically all of East Pierce is.

      2. I have done some analysis based on data on how each city voted from here (which is from November 9, the most recent page I could find that lists numbers neatly by city): http://www.tacomatomorrow.com/2012/11/how-each-city-is-voting-on-prop-1.html

        Here, I define “East Pierce” as Puyallup, Fife, Milton, Edgewood, Sumner, Pacific, and Lake Tapps. Note: the reason cities outside of the PT boundary like Sumner show up is because precincts that are in unincorporated Pierce County and in the PT boundary get assigned to their nearest city, which can be outside the boundary.

        At that time, there were 88420 no votes and 89207 yes votes. Prop 1 was failing by a mere 787 votes, which is 0.443%.

        If, however, East Pierce was excluded and did their own transit thing, there would have been (at the time) 70588 yes votes versus just 66208 no votes. Prop 1 would have been winning by a whopping 4380 votes, which is 3.202% of the total prop 1 votes in that scenario.

        So I think that even if Pierce Transit loses the tax from auto sales in Fife and Puyallup, the relatively assured victory of a future tax increase in other areas, including Tacoma’s downtown core and mall, would probably more than make up for the loss of tax revenue there, especially considering that they would recover funds by discontinuing all the Ease Pierce routes.

        On the other hand, if prop 1 somehow fails in the smaller boundary excluding East Pierce County, Pierce Transit is kinda screwed.

    2. A new agency wouldn’t have a “clean record” at all. Just a blank one. It’s the difference between someone with bad credit history and someone with no credit history.

    3. FWIW, I think one of the problems is antique county borders, dating to the 19th century. Sure, it makes sense to have a single countywide transit agency… if your county is a coherent political entity. Which in most cases it is NOT.

      Our cities don’t have coherent political borders either, in most of the US. Now, maybe Tacoma can handle containing Northeast Tacoma (which I assume is there in order to capture the industry, not the population), but start looking at the borders of Los Angeles and you’ll wonder what’s going on.

    4. A new agency might be able to deliver some service, but I doubt it will be to the extent PT was before the contraction, much less more service to Buckley. You have to ask why people voted no. Maybe they thought PT was spending too much in Tacoma and not enough in east Pierce. Or maybe they’re just hostile to any taxes, especially public transit taxes, in which case East Pierce Transit wouldn’t get off the ground. East Pierce may end up with losing PT and having nothing except ST. At that point, I’m sure Puyallup and Sumner and Fife would each set up some sort of transit, but it would be even more minimal than either of these options, maybe a single van and maybe paratransit-only.

      1. It is interesting that the law says if you have transit, you must have paratransit, yet there no requirements in the law for municipalities of a given size to have any transit whatsoever to begin with.

        No transit at all? Ok! Paratransit only? Also ok! Fixed-route transit only? Not ok!

        Somehow, this seems very messed up.

  8. I was thinking recently about the Capitol Hill routes using Pine St. What does the collective hive think about splitting the outbound buses to use Pike St and inbound buses to use Pine St. I admit, I am no transit planner, but this option would get rid of a few of the left-right turns that the 10, 11, and 49 need to do along their routes. Yes, there would be the need for wires and new stop infrastructure but would it work?

    1. It perpetuates the fundamental problem that Pike Street is a block away from the Westlake transfer station. The right thing to do is to have two-way trolleybuses on Pine.

      1. Does anyone know why the trolleybuses use Pike to Bellevue? It’s obvious they turned on 8th at one time – the wires are still there.

        Using 8th would eliminate the unprotected left at Pike & Bellevue, which I think is a win.

      2. The wires are a turnaround. Pine street is one-way after a certain point, so there’s that.

      3. Incorrect, Beavis. The wires on 8th attach only to the eastbound wires on Pine (toward Capitol Hill). The wires are still active, and in fact it has been used in this way during a handful of recent reroutes.

        The turnaround for buses coming from Capitol Hill, to which you referred, are on 7th.

        Multiple blog posters have said that 8th->Pine was the default uphill routing as recently as a decade ago, that the switch to Bellevue happened during a convention center expansion, and that only stupidity and inertia have prevented a return to the traffic-free eastbound Pine lane.

      4. I always assumed the reason the 7 (now 49), 10, and 11 were moved from 7th to Bellevue to join the 14 (now 47) and 43 was for stop consistency. If you’re coming from Convention Place station, half the eastbound buses were on Pine and half on Pike, which meant if you wanted the next bus going east, you might go to the wrong stop and miss it.

      5. It’s definitely important to have consistency. But that doesn’t mean the buses couldn’t all turn earlier. Yes, it’s an extra turn for the 43 and 47, but it’s a wash for the other routes. Everyone benefits from having stops closer to Convention Place and from the relative lack of traffic on 8th compared to Bellevue.

      6. And benefits from the nonexistent traffic crossing Boren on Pine, whereas in the evening there’s often a two- or three-light-cycle backup crossing Boren on Pike.

    2. Couplets are bad for legibility. But realistically, two-way operation all the way down Pine would be quite a challenge to implement.

      It’s good that eastbound service shifts to Pine as soon as the buses get over I-5. If it weren’t for the difficulty of setting up a safe stop eastbound on Pine near Boren, I would argue that Metro should use the 8th Ave. wire to shift from Pike to Pine eastbound.

      The other blue-sky possibility would be to shift all service to Pike, rather than Pine. That could help a bit with the removal of a Seneca corridor (a Pike route would have a very easy transition to Union to continue on the east portion of the current 2S, and walks from Pike would be shorter) but it would also disadvantage a whole bunch of SCCC riders. Given the configuration of the existing trolley infrastructure, it’s not realistic.

      1. If I remember correctly, the 7, 10 and 11 USED to turn left on 8th from Pike to Pine–about 10 years ago. I wonder why they stopped doing that.

        If they don’t use the 8th Avenue wire, they might as well tear it down–“Use it or lose it!” Same goes with the trolley wire on Broadway between Pine and Jackson–Use it (in revenue service) or lose it!

      2. Placing stops would be pretty tricky if you used the 8th wire to cross over. I think you’d have no choice but to place one stop on 8th, immediately after the turn, to replace the current nearside 8th stop on Pike. (The wire is too far to the left, and the difficulty of getting over too great, to stop on Pike near 7th or 8th.) The next stop is even trickier. Pine farside Boren would have accessibility issues and be kind of far from anything useful. Pine farside 9th would be awfully close to the 8th stop, although it would be good for CPS connections. By contrast, the current nearside 8th and farside Boren stop locations on Pike work pretty well.

        The wire on Broadway is very heavily used by deadheading coaches, which would otherwise have to take a major detour through downtown.

      3. Just put it farside 9th, making Convention Place a useful transfer point for the first time ever.

        The current Pike stop is closer to 9th than 8th anyway. Two-way Pine operations would be far too great an improvement to scuttle over such a quibble.

      4. Regarding the Broadway wire: I actually found it being used in revenue service in a way that was very useful to me at the time. I was traveling from Bothell near the UW branch campus to 12th and Terrace, and Metro trip planner routed me from the 372 to a 43 which was returning to the barn via Broadway and made all the stops the 60 made in that stretch.

    3. When the DSTT was originally built, the plan was for two way ETB operation on Pine Street to coincide with the Pine Street and Third Avenue rebuild after the tunnel stations (and the Pine cut and cover) work was completed.

      There was also intentions to have Pine Street around Westlake Park be transit only (as it was during construction). But that was objected to by area merchants.

  9. Cross Kirkland Corridor Update:

    On May 3, 2013 Federal Judge Marsha Pechman heard oral arguments from the City and Ballard regarding Ballard’s request for a temporary restraining order. The City requested that the order be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. Judge Pechman issued an oral decision granting the City’s motion to dismiss the case. She ruled that the STB was the proper forum to consider Ballard’s request.

    STB in this case stands for Surface Transportation Board, not Seattle Transit Blog :=

  10. Check out Pierce Transit’s new website design! I’m not all that fond of Apple’s metallic style skin that this site now uses, but I like it better than the old site. It includes some nice photos along with route schedules as well.

    If you check out the 62 schedule (http://www.piercetransit.org/route-62-northeast-tacoma/), they show a photo of a bus near Downtown Tacoma that says “62 Northeast Tacoma,” which is funny because the 62 only goes between NE Tacoma and South Federal Way.

  11. Seen on the $eattle Time$’ twitter feed: “Eyman made $112,000 last year for initiative pitching http://seati.ms/17714au

    I’d like to switch to a local news source without a paywall, but the next most popular is King 5, which tweets much more often, including “hey, our newscast is starting now!” Not sure if I want to go to anything that smacks of fringiness…

  12. Tourist Trolley Story: “Wear clothing that is comfortable to walk in and, this being Seattle, wear layers! The Trolleys are open air on the sides so depending on the weather, it is possible to get wet or be warm.”

    “No refunds are given for unused tickets”

    May I suggest adding a stop at REI for those sometimes cold/wet late spring and early fall Seattle rains?

  13. At $45 per person per day, this tourist trolley is going to be more expensive than taxis for most trips – and with headways of 40 minutes. What a complete joke!

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