This is an open thread.

98 Replies to “News Roundup: The Alternative”

  1. [Federal Way Mayor Skip] Priest also pushed for failed legislation that attempted to dismantle Sound Transit. Ferrell said this showed Priest was not a good partner on this issue.

    Just a reminder to anyone living in Federal Way who is reading this… Mayor of Federal Way is on the ballot.

    1. [eds – John, sock puppets are not allowed at STB. Post under your own handle moving forward or your posts will be removed.]
      Only a few select areas of the world today have replacement rates above 2, the rest have settled to that number or below. If we didn’t have high immigration in the last 2 decades, the US population would have plateaued at 250 million. While I am not anti-immigration, having very high levels of it makes a low replacement level country act as a release valve to a high replacement rate country, and thus there is no penalty to having them check their own populations.

      1. Poverty doesn’t hold fertility or population in check (quite the opposite!). And immigration not only props up US population growth, but also US economic vitality. Reducing immigration wouldn’t penalize any nation, but it would doom us to irrelevance.

        Anyway, carbon emissions are a global problem and we don’t have a chance of solving them without global trust, dialog, and understanding.

      2. [eds – John, sock puppets are not allowed at STB. Post under your own handle moving forward or your posts will be removed.]

        Yes, the birth rate for the poor is twice that of the well off.

        However, I would question the old salve about immigration and economic “vitality”. Yes, a little spice makes a better minestrone, but we’ve been pouring a whole carton of Morton in and expecting it to taste good.

        If you are saying that more people or overcrowding and density make a “better” nation, then India should be a better place to live than the US, and we would be moving there. It isn’t and we don’t!

        For example, imagine what the US wages and lifestyle would be with nation of 250 million! Imagine how more accessible our cities would be with large, low cost apartments and houses instead of apodments! Only the worst sadist would subject people to high overpopulation and dwindling resources!!

        “Global trust, dialog and understanding”, pale compared to making a reasonable attempt to halve human population in a generation…which I think is a goal worth pursuing and is achievable!

      3. Limiting the number of people entering the US won’t do anything to “halve human population in a generation”. I’m not at all convinced that’s an achievable or a good goal, but no effort on this scale (or the scale of addressing climate change) can possibly happen without lots of global cooperation. Not with countries closing off their arbitrarily drawn borders. The US exports its ideas as it imports people.

        And only the worst sadist would restrict people’s opportunities to their countries of birth, or would turn away new people simply because they challenge their own inherited privilege. That’s gated community thinking and I doubt it will win many supporters over here.

        US wages and lifestyle might be considerably worse if not for the talent that enters our country through immigration and strengthens US businesses, especially in sectors involving emerging technology. Without immigration, would tech companies be expanding in Seattle, or would they be expanding in India? We could be asking, “Would the last innovators to leave America please turn out the lights?”

      4. Countries with very low or negative birth rates have shown they continue to innovate. Look at Europe where nearly every country is experiencing NPG!

        And given that all of my two of my great grandparents and two of my grandparents got off a boat in New York from Italy, far be it from me to say who comes here or not!

        However, when you consider the difference between 8 billion and 4 billion people, I doubt if we’re going to miss out on any “innovators” among those 4 billion (especially since the world seemed much more innovative at the beginning of the 20th century than the end of it).

    2. At the beginning of the twentieth century, innovation was about big things, electricity, dams, canals, big ships, bridges,skyscrapers and airplanes to name a few.

      But the end of that century and the beginning of this one, the innovation is less visible, but no less spectacular. Missions to other planets and out of the solar system, a permanent presence in orbit, incredible advances in medical and bio technology, automation and robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, a shift towards renewable energy requiring massive innovation, communications advances so pervasive it alters our culture.

      1. “Incredible” as these are…I would call these all secondary or optimizing technologies that layer on top of the basic innovations in factory automation and transportation.

      2. Actually John, 3D printing is probably going to be the biggest major change in manufacturing.

      3. Is anyone going to mention the silicon transistor as a fundamentally innovative change or will you deem it a secondary or optimizing technology based on the turn-of-the-century vacuum tube?

        I think it’s naïve to presume that all the great inventions were 100 years ago. It takes time for history to write itself.

  2. The micro housing regulations would not require parking where parking is not required for other housing (i.e., in urban centers/villages near frequent transit). Since most of these projects are being and will be built in these areas, it’s not much of a change from existing rules. (It’s also fun to see commenters on the MyBallard article believing that this would stop more apodments like the current ones from being built, when the rules changes almost nothing, except adding design review.)

    1. Isn’t design review the goal of the protests to DPD? We understand that boarding houses are likely here to stay, but we’d prefer that we had some input rather than them being shoved down our throat.

      1. I don’t think design review is the reason why people are protesting to the City/DPD. I think people only want the same density and development type that they moved next to, even though existing zoning allows for more.
        Design review won’t be able to stop these developments. If the development type is allowed under current zoning, then it can be built. Instead, design review will help influence the building’s design to better complement the massing and characteristics of surrounding townhomes, apartments, and houses, which even I think is a good thing.

      2. I think people are also protesting that these boarding houses could very quickly become unlivable dumps that we will then be stuck with.

      3. are you the one who wrote the “Belltown developer” letter posted in Ballard? because i would like to know how the apodment residents will both take up all the parking and overcrowd the buses.

  3. Good to see that the DPD is at least blinking on boarding houses. Unfortunately the one issue they are focusing on is parking and not forcing “build and run” developers to go through a more transparent review process with public comment.

    Or they could, you know, provide legitimate transit to the denser places and piss off less people

  4. What does he mean by “dismantle Sound Transit”? How exactly does mayor Priest think that this will get light rail to Federal Way faster?

    1. I assume the answer is that Mr. Priest got upset at Sound Transit so he did what some people do when they’re angry: break things.

      1. Skip Priest, this is how things work in this world. Miles and miles of light rail is expensive, and takes a long time to build. You must be new here.

  5. Manhattan rents drop for first time in two years; may be close to plateau

    The median monthly rent dropped 3.1 per cent from a year earlier to US$3,095, the first such decline since June 2011, according to a report by appraiser Miller Samuel and broker Douglas Elliman Real Estate. The vacancy rate climbed to 2.66 per cent, the second-highest in three years, from 1.85 per cent a year earlier.

    http://www.scmp.com/property/international/article/1332303/manhattan-rents-drop-first-time-two-years-may-be-close

    1. 3% vacancy rate is still very low and would tend to push rents up. 5% is a more stable equilibrium. At the same time, $3,000 is very high even for New York’s inflated salaries. It’s fine for Wall Street clerks but teachers and retail workers either have mandatory roommates or are commuting from Jersey. So the issue is, are there enough Wall Street clerks and such to fill all these apartments, enough that the landlords can ignore the huge demand for housing at lower rates? It’s also possible that the landlords overshot the markets slightly, because rents can’t continue to go up forever to $3,500 and $4,000 and beyond: even Wall Street clerks traders will only pay so much and there are only so many of them. If they did overshoot, this may just be a correction to the real maximum.

  6. So now that the shutdown is ended, will the footpath over the Ballard Locks reopen in time for the evening commute, or will it remain closed until tomorrow morning? I’m planning to ride through that area after work today, and I’d like to head across the locks if I can.

    1. The Locks tweeted this morning:
      The park grounds at the Chittenden Locks reopened Oct. 17 at 6:30 a.m.

  7. I really need to remember to stop reading the comments on Seattle Times articles. (Side query: is STB going to do a write-up of the Seattle “listening tour” meeting? I wasn’t there and the Times article–well, its comments–is giving me tiredhead.)

    This quote, I thought, was particularly apt: “Republican lawmakers called the statewide tour largely to take feedback about cost-cutting ideas.” Of course, because the idea that society is expensive and has to be paid for somehow is a non-starter.

    Also: “[Governor Inslee] is considering some of the Senate group’s ideas, such as a faster permit system, and forming public-private partnerships…” What would a public-private partnership mean insofar as transportation? I thought we already had ones for the 520 bridge and the Deeply Boring tunnel; if that’s what those are, they’re working out well.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took the form of cities or counties setting routes, service levels, and fares, but having private companies (First, Veolia) run the service itself. Think of how Sound Transit manages ST Express bus service, but contracts out operations to local transit agencies – just replace those local agencies with private, for-profit companies.

      1. ST routes on Sundays in SnoHoCo are operated by First Transit with ST equipment. The other six days they’re operated by Community Transit with ST equipment but Community Transit doesn’t run on Sundays. (My info on this may not be complete.)

        I don’t think that sort of arrangement is usually considered a real public-private partnership — it’s simply a contractor picking up a government contract. Usually public-private partnership indicates an arrangement where the private entity has more control or ownership (at least ownership of some kind of special right), especially control over pricing. Examples include Chicago’s parking meter deal, where the city sold a long-term right to parking meter operation to some company that can set rates as it pleases; the city did this for a short-term cash infusion. Some UK cities have public-private partnerships in transit… IIRC the routes are set by the city and operators bid for contracts but set schedules, fares, and policies (some operators on some routes have a bus wait at a stop until it fills up, then depart, rather than always departing on a schedule, for example), and I think you can’t transfer from one company’s buses to another because that would be collusion.

        IMHO… If you really believe there’s a large amount of waste and inefficiency or missed opportunities for innovation in the public sector you might reasonably believe private companies could do well operating commuter service where there’s sure to be enough passengers to ensure frequency. I’m not sure there’s really a large amount of waste, inefficiency, or missed opportunity for innovation in the public sector (I have no deep knowledge of this — some PPP supporters claim it without proof, and some PPPs have ended up really gouging people). What you give up when you give so much control to the private operators is consistent service and policy. If we (the people) want a unified frequent all-day network providing abundant, comprehensive access to the urban core of Seattle… at this point we (the people) will probably have to do it, because it ain’t the most profitable way to operate.

      2. Doesn’t First Transit operate all Community Transit’s service? So Sunday may be the same as far as Sound Transit is concerned.

      3. Certain parts of the transit system in the Bay area are operated by MV Transportation such as Dumbarton Express (DB, DB1) and LYNX (Western Contra Costa county (Westcat))

  8. Is it just me or is LA’s public transit vastly underrated at this point? I spent a week there in the Spring; my first visit in 15 years, and schlepped all over the city and region with a degree of comfort and ease I did not expect.

      1. Lack of LAX train is not great, but the Union Flyer bus served as a reasonable, functional alternative.

        What’s the deal with LAX, though? How can one of the world’s busiest airports be that horribly designed?

      2. I’ll take the short walk from baggage claim to Central Link at SEA any day over the situation at LAX.

      3. LAX and Dodger Stadium may be the first omissions a tourist notices, but… we all expect the Cap Hill-UW-Northgate segment to blow SeaTac and the stadiums out of the water on ridership, right? And we could all think of a few other alignments that would draw more ridership than Central Link, right?

        Maybe LA has its priorities right. The train to the airport is a feather in the cap. The train that connects people to their daily lives is the cap.

      4. The Stadium-Northgate core is clearly the most important, but airports do have a special secondary role. If a city has rail to the airport, it makes a positive first impression on visitors, and it may be the only transit they personally experience while they’re here. So it’s an “ambassador” of the city’s general transit mobility, and competes favorably with cities that have only a slow bus, or in some cases not even that. That translates into more people willing to visit the city, visit it repeatedly, and possibly move here or invest here.

        If there’s a long passageway to the station (Seattle, Chicago) or a shuttle bus (LA), the effectiveness is dimished but it’s still above zero.

        Add to that the tens of thousands of airport employees, akin to a Boeing plant or the Microsoft campus or UW.

        It’s not the cap, but it’s more than a feather.

    1. My wife and I were in Los Angeles this past January. We thought the rail system was great! It took us nearly everywhere we wanted to go. Hollywood? Check. Universal Studios? Check. Union Station? Check. Pretty damn good, as far as we could tell.

    2. Even setting aside the rail system (which will be a far more effective piece of LA’s transit puzzle in a couple of decades), there are vast swaths of the city where getting around is made incredibly easy and intuitive by LA Metro’s streamlined bus-network structure and focus on frequency.

      On the entire density corridor from Downtown LA to the Westside, for example, getting around car-free is significantly less stressful than car-free living in 95% of Seattle. If your need to head into the Hills or make day-trips to other parts of the region averaged once a week or less (i.e. reasonable rental-car frequency), then non-car-ownership without severely impinged quality of life would be highly feasible.

      1. there are vast swaths of the city where getting around is made incredibly easy and intuitive by LA Metro’s streamlined bus-network structure and focus on frequency.

        Yeah, probably 2/3 of my trips were bus not rail while I was there, and the network seemed mostly intuitively designed, with convenient transfers. There may be a weather based component to this; perhaps people in LA are less inclined to bitch about walking 3/4 of a mile, enabling investments in frequency over coverage and deviations.

      2. What are the boundaries of this transit-rich part of LA, and does it include any neighborhoods with rents the same or lower than Seattle?

    3. I was in LA last year, and I agree that the transit system is underrated. But the frequency on some of the LRT and BRT lines left a lot to be desired. The Green Line is downright infrequent. But the frequency on some of the metro rapid bus lines astonished me. Twice I just missed buses and decided to kill a few minutes by walking around the block and I proceeded to miss the next bus too. Two of rapid buses that I was on were very well used too. After the subway to the sea, I would wonder whether focusing on these metro rapid buses would be a better use of money.

    1. These articles are completely absurd and quite offensive. This is clear victim-blaming. People shouldn’t be faulted for getting shot because they didn’t see the gun, and even if people had seen the gun, how could they have stopped this person from shooting everyone?

  9. An infill station at MLK and S Graham St … I would imagine would be the first one requiring staggered platforms (i.e. NB platform N of the intersection and vice versa for the SB one)

    looking at the area in Goggle Mapz => https://maps.google.com/maps?q=mlk+%26+graham+st,+seattle+wa&hl=en&ll=47.545923,-122.285771&spn=0.00573,0.004742&sll=47.613028,-122.342064&sspn=0.517973,0.606995&t=h&hnear=Martin+Luther+King+Jr+Way+S+%26+S+Graham+St,+Seattle,+King,+Washington+98118&z=18

    there isn’t enough room to have the across-the-track platforms and even if they are staggered … it would still require a bunch or road lane reconfiguration along with sidewalk reconstruction and/or adjacent property modifications (this might be a problem since it isn’t all parking lots along the ROW)

    1. Hopefully they find a way sooner rather than later, whether through ST3 or other means. Makes no sense to have that kind of stop spacing there, or to skip the most vibrant business node along the whole corridor.

    2. Restrict left turn moves from Martin Luther King Way and build a split platform. That might work until something more than two cars are on Link.

      Cars that need to make the left – well three rights make a left.

    3. Considering Graham was originally included in the project but was ‘deferred’ until more funding could be found (similar to what happened to Stadium Station, but money was found for it), I have to assume that when Sound Transit rebuilt MLK they planned for adding another station.

      I mean it would be the height of irresponsibility to know you are going to be adding a station in the future but not pay a few cents more when rebuilding the street anyway to save you dollars (and who knows how much public good will, people HATE road construction and ‘waste’) down the road.

      1. I don’t believe they did plan for Graham St. infill when rebuilding that section of MLK, unfortunately. Agree that it is immensely frustrating.

      2. You’d think so, Seattleite, but Jason is right. ST directed the complete reconstruction of the street in a way that prevented, rather than facilitated, this station’s reinstatement.

        This is, of course, at odds with the entire history of urban rail construction, from the anticipatory stub connections on early London Underground lines to the already-sunk station-box supports for infill stops on the Canada Line.

        Sound Transit seems to go out of its way to build “closed system” infrastructure, forever preventing service revisions, system fixes, or having to admit the slightest error.

  10. Not having the data from Bolt, my somewhat educated guess is that Bolt is taking a bite out of Amtrak Cascades on the periphery, but less so on the core Seattle-Portland market. Its offerings are generally comparable in terms of frequency (7/day) and travel time for Seattle-Portland service, but generally superior in flexibility for Vancouver, Bellingham, and Eugene service. (But we should also remember that one Cascades train holds as many passengers as 5 Bolt buses.)

    At current service levels, Bolt could become about 75% as big as Cascades. Because Bolt runs nonstop service and seats can’t turnover, its capacity is fixed. If all runs were sold out for a year, Bolt’s annual ridership would be ~657,000:
    – 255k Seattle-Portland (50 passengers, 14 trips/day)
    – 146k Seattle-Bellingham (50 passengers, 8 trips/day)
    – 146k Seattle-Vancouver BC (50 passengers, 8 trips/day)
    – 109k Portland-Eugene (50 passengers, 6 trips/day)

    Bolt is offering several things Cascades isn’t:
    – Morning trips from PDX to Eugene
    – Mid-day service to/from Bellingham
    – Mid-day service to/from Vancouver

    What I wonder is how the Amtrak thruway buses are faring. I know I almost surely wouldn’t take one to Vancouver given that I have both Bolt and QuickShuttle as superior options.

    1. Remember, most people default to driving, since they perceive the costs of a trip only as the price of gas.

      It’s 190 miles from Seattle to Portland. If you take an average sedan, with an average mpg (averaging high mpg cars with low mpg trucks), of 20mpg, and buy cheap ARCO gas, it costs around $30 in gas. If you pick up your Amtrak ticket when it’s low, you’ll pay $33.

      If you do your cost accounting properly, at $.59/mile, you’ll still be saving even when the fare is up at $60.

      People who are looking for a bus ride first look at Greyhound and others specifically for the cheap ride, and on certain trips, where a service disruption cancels train service, people cancel their trips. (or for that matter, if they don’t look closely enough at the website are quite disappointed when the ‘train’ they booked is really a bus)

      Amtrak Thruway bus service in the Cascades corridor from Seattle – Vancouver is an adjunct to the train schedules. They are connecting buses. If/when the trains continue through, as is evidenced by the Portland – Vancouver trains (513/516), you would see much higher ridership.

      1. I have ridden an Amtrak thruway bus once from Mt. Vernon to Everett and ridership was not good.

        It should be noted though, that in the Seattle->Bellingham corridor, Amtrak thruway buses and Bolt buses serve different sets of stops. For instance, the Amtrak stop in Bellingham is in a completely different part of town than the Bolt stop, and Bolt doesn’t serve Mt. Vernon. In fact on weekends, the Amtrak thruway bus is the only midday public transportation option for travel between Seattle and Mt. Vernon (possibly except Greyhound).

      2. “Rail fetishism” isn’t just a river in Egypt, Jim.

        Nobody — nobody — is riding Amtrak all the way through from Portland to Vancouver. It’s just not a legitimately time-competitive journey. And while it’s nice to have the option of shorter through-trips (Bellingham-Olympia, Mt. Vernon-Portland), I guarantee the number of riders making those specific trips is vanishingly small.

        Recall that only 5% of Northeast Corridor trips begin on one side of New York Penn and end on the other, thanks to the layover scheduling. (Having ridden Philly-Boston, I can vouch that the result is a very long trip that I would hesitate to make again.) Well, the Cascades through-trips include a similarly disadvantageous delay.

        For the most part, Zach’s analysis of where and when BoltBus is and isn’t competitive is spot-on. Though I have personally chosen Bolt over Cascades for one Seattle-Portland trip when the price differential and better schedule timing were too great to ignore — I experienced a trip so fast and convenient that my selection was justified beyond a reasonable doubt — so I can imagine the SEA-PDX route having a greater impact than Zach estimates.

      3. Your analysis of the cost is spot-on for one person making the trip, but if a couple makes the trip, or, say, a group of four, the cost of even BoltBus vs. driving is heavily skewed in driving’s favor.

      4. “Nobody — nobody — is riding Amtrak all the way through from Portland to Vancouver.”

        about %20 of the riders actually do make that trip, with a few from Vancouver, WA. Added to that are people from stations south of Seattle, although at a proportion that is realitive to their population.

        “I experienced a trip so fast and convenient that my selection was justified beyond a reasonable doubt “

        I would be the last person to discourage you from taking the bus.

      5. About %20 of the riders actually do make that trip

        I flat-out don’t believe you. Only two Seattle-Vancouver trains happen per day, and one of them coincides with one of the mere four Portland-Seattle trips.

        And you’re claiming that 20% of the boardings on that train are by people traveling 8+ hours from the Portland area to Vancouver.

        The burden of proof is definitely on you here.

      6. No, actually not.

        Give that you first made the statement: “Nobody — nobody — is riding Amtrak all the way through from Portland to Vancouver.” the burden of proof is most certainly yours.

        My sources tell me different.

        But what you think doesn’t concern me, what I find unfortunate is that someone blogging for a major news organization as “Seattle Times news librarian”, using what is presumably his real name: Gene Balk, (where his reputation would be at stake), and claiming to “crunch the numbers”, has drawn conclusions that aren’t at all validated by the data.

        Ridership is down.

        When confronted with the response from Amtrak, (who would be the closest to the raw data), who “thought a bad winter for mudslides was to blame.”, Mr. Balk goes on to explain that “according to data from the state Department of Transportation, Amtrak had 23 fewer service disruptions last winter than in the winter of 2010-2011″. He then goes on to say “a year when the Cascade line’s ridership increased by nearly 16,000 trips”

        This is very hazy analysis, because my first question was “what year”. He doesn’t explain what report he got his data from. Was it the correlated year-to-date figures from the month he was reporting on? Was it the calendar year 2010? or was it 2011?

        To repeat – 2010 was the year the 513/516 trains were extended over the border to Vancouver BC.

        While it seems hard enough to pin down where he’s getting the data, he then goes on to state: “A more likely explanation: [Bolt Bus]”

        But even more astonishing is… he draws this conclusion even though “… the company would not disclose ridership numbers, [but] a Bolt Bus spokesperson did confirm that customer response in the Northwest has exceeded expectations.”

        Did he ask Greyhound what their expectations were?

        I was left with the impession that this was an opinion piece masquerading as an actual news post.

      7. I actually agree with your last point: any analysis that employs 2010 numbers to draw its conclusions, yet fails to adjust for the second cross-border trip and the Olympics that took place in said year, is suspect.

        But you’re not going to get away with suggesting a train is packed with 8-hour Portland-Vancouver trippers by claiming to have “sources”. Not with your history of history of overstating the worth of time-uncompetitive long-distance rail service.

        The statistic that >90% of Northeast ridership changes during the Manhattan layover is real and sourced. No one is riding from Washington to Boston. The suggestion that large numbers are doing the Cascades equivalent is bunk.

    2. It does not help that Amtrak further padded the scheduled duration of the Portland-Seattle trip on Cascades up to 3 hours 40 mins (up from 3 hours 30 minutes). The duration of travel does matter. From what I can tell, the actual travel times have not changed, but the scheduled time duration is what you see when booking the trip.

      That’s something to think about next time some nearly no ridership small town tries to add another intermediate stop. And something to dream about when WSDOT gets serious about upgrading passenger rail that actually speeds up the trip: the ridership will spike upwards dramatically.

      1. Jim, the only speed enhancement on the drawing board is the Pt. Defiance bypass project, which may happen in 2017, and is only 10 minutes reduction.

        I’ve actually not noticed any delay going through Vancouver over the last half year since that project padding was added. In fact, it’s still much better than it was in 2010 from the parts of the Vancouver project that were completed a couple years ago.

      2. Shorter travel times are as much dependant on eliminating the chokepoints along the way, not just raw speed increases.

        The Point Defiance Bypass isn’t really a major travel time enhancement, as much as it eliminates the Nelson Bennett tunnel chokepoint at Point Defiance.

    3. And of course, we all know how the Seattle Times is a bastion of unbiased reporting, so when I saw this part of the article:

      “So why a big decline all of a sudden?

      An Amtrak official thought a bad winter for mudslides was to blame. But according to data from the state Department of Transportation, Amtrak had 23 fewer service disruptions last winter than in the winter of 2010-2011, a year when the Cascade line’s ridership increased by nearly 16,000 trips.

      A more likely explanation:

      Amtrak saw its first real competition in mid-2012. Bolt Bus

      I did some checking.

      The Winter Olympics in Vancouver BC were in February of 2010.

      That was also when they finally made the extension of trains #’s 513/516 permanent… in a roundabout way.

      The 16,000 person increase, which blogger Gene Balk only says was for the year, not specific to times of mudslides, Olympics, or otherwise, was primarily due to the extra ridership generated by people from Portland making the trips.

      His blog article creates a false dichotemy.

      The survey results are interesting, because it does reveal that a major portion of travellers drive.

      They are the target audience. The question is, what mode will they switch to if they can be convinced of the economic advantages of either the train or the bus.

      If Bolt Bus is such a screaming deal, what’s holding them up from making the switch from their car?

      The same reason they aren’t swarming to the trains, the perception that they need the car once they get to their destination.

      Greyhound, Amtrak or any other non-SOV conveyance can connect to the private car via the car rental agencies.

      1. “Greyhound, Amtrak or any other non-SOV conveyance can connect to the private car via the car rental agencies.”

        True, but if you need to rent a car at the destination for a substantial portion of the trip, on top of the bus/train fare, you are probably paying a big premium over driving. Even if you don’t own a car, if you’re going to rent a car in Portland, it’s not much extra cost to just rent the car for one more day from Seattle, especially when the drive is wear and tear on somebody else’s car.

        Of course, saving money isn’t everything. Sometimes, paying a little bit more to take the train and rent the car on the other end is worth it when considering stress, etc.

      2. Good point, then all you’d be doing is factoring in the cost of gas, and how many days you rent the car for.

    4. No, actually not.

      Give that you first made the statement: “Nobody — nobody — is riding Amtrak all the way through from Portland to Vancouver.” the burden of proof is most certainly yours.

      My sources tell me different.

      But what you think doesn’t concern me, what I find unfortunate is that someone blogging for a major news organization as “Seattle Times news librarian”, using what is presumably his real name: Gene Balk, (where his reputation would be at stake), and claiming to “crunch the numbers”, has drawn conclusions that aren’t at all validated by the data.

      Ridership is down.

      When confronted with the response from Amtrak, (who would be the closest to the raw data), who “thought a bad winter for mudslides was to blame.”, Mr. Balk goes on to explain that “according to data from the state Department of Transportation, Amtrak had 23 fewer service disruptions last winter than in the winter of 2010-2011”. He then goes on to say “a year when the Cascade line’s ridership increased by nearly 16,000 trips”

      This is very hazy analysis, because my first question was “what year”. He doesn’t explain what report he got his data from. Was it the correlated year-to-date figures from the month he was reporting on? Was it the calendar year 2010? or was it 2011?

      To repeat – 2010 was the year the 513/516 trains were extended over the border to Vancouver BC.

      While it seems hard enough to pin down where he’s getting the data, he then goes on to state: “A more likely explanation: [Bolt Bus]”

      But even more astonishing is… he draws this conclusion even though “… the company would not disclose ridership numbers, [but] a Bolt Bus spokesperson did confirm that customer response in the Northwest has exceeded expectations.”

      Did he ask Greyhound what their expectations were?

      I was left with the impession that this was an opinion piece masquerading as an actual news post.

      1. I have the utmost confidence in my source.

        If I were you, I’d be questioning the source that told you zero people make the Portland – Vancouver trip.

      2. Give me a break, Jim.

        Are you misinterpreting some numbers from the Olympics, just as the Times may be doing? Flights were egregiously expensive at that time; that’s about the only time in history I can imagine more than one or two foamers making an 8-hour trip on Cascades.

        If Amtrak publishes individual origin-destination pair figures, I want to see them. Otherwise, your “source” is a crock.

      3. d.p., see page 10 here. Portland – Vancouver BC accounts for 4% of total revenue for Cascades, so it’s clear that there are more than zero people making the trip.

        From page 9, one can see that total revenue for trains 513 and 516 is $10M, so the proportion of Portland – Vancouver revenue is 13% for those two trains. Unless of course the city pairs listed are directional, in which case the proportion of train 516 revenue is 28%. This is revenue, not ridership and the fares for the longer trip would be higher than the average fare, so it seems unlikely that Jim is right either.

      4. The chart listed the city pair as Vancouver BC/Portland, so I should have compared it to train 513. not 516. It would be 24% of train 513 revenue.

        Here are ticket prices for some city pairs in the pie chart:

        VAC – PDX $69
        SEA – PDX $33
        EUG – PDX $26
        SEA – VAC $40

      5. “If Amtrak publishes individual origin-destination pair figures, I want to see them. Otherwise, your “source” is a crock.”

        I honestly don’t know of any published report showing that level of detail, but I’m sure Amtrak doesn’t really give a rat’s butt what some poster on a blog demands.

        There you go, d.p. why don’t you use your immutable charm on your contact.

        Is that historical data available? That 20% figure I showed was a bit of an extrapolation, because my source’s data was for current ridership, and remarked that it is now past cruise season, which generated much higher Portland-Vancouver,BC ridership. The 20% seemed like a happy medium.

        Given the exchange that goes on between us, maybe our un-biased SeattleTransitBlog editors would work their contacts and see where the actual data leads us…

      6. How odd, Zach, for them to demand expense-costs for information that is almost certainly right at their fingertips. I don’t think they’re hiding anything; it’s just super weird.

        Fortunately, I think AW has found us enough data ingredients to do our own rough calculations. (Thank you for finding that, AW, and for doing the first round of math!)

        The chart on page 10 without any doubt is reporting bi-directional city pairs, which makes first calculation correct: ridership between Portland and Vancouver accounts for 13% of combined 513/516 revenue.

        With Portland-Vancouver fares roughly double (or slightly more than double) the average fare paid for other high-ridership 513/516 segments, we’re looking at 6%-6.5% those trains’ ridership making the journey end-to-end.

        So how does that translate to raw numbers? Well, page 6 informs us that Vancouver, BC has 141,000 “station on-offs” per year, or 70,500 statistical round trips.

        The disparities in revenue between 510 and 517, and between 513 and 516, tell us that riders are generally choosing morning travel in both directions. It is therefore reasonable to presume that 513 and 516 (one morning, one night) cumulatively account for roughly half of that 70,500 — let’s say in the range of 45%-55%, or roughly 32,000-38,500 passengers.

        So how many of these passengers are traveling Portland-Vancouver? Take 6%-6.5% of 23,000-38,500, and we wind up with 1,920-2,503 people doing this… in an entire year!

        That’s an average of 5-7 passengers per day. On the sole train that makes the through trip. That’s the ridership bump one gets from offering an 8-hour through-trip with a 30-minute thumb-twiddle on the platform beneath Jackson Street.

        It’s not literally zero — just as Acela ridership from DC-Boston isn’t literally zero — but it’s hardly a significant market being served. And it’s hardly a reason to chase more (slow-)scheduled through trips.

        Perhaps that’s why the Amtrak fare for the through-trip is almost identical to buying separate tickets for each leg. It’s not even worth their while to discount a seat that serves such a fringe purpose.

  11. Indeed, we’ve never built a modern streetcar line without some combination of signal priority and dedicated right-of-way.

    Yes, technically 5% and 0% (respectively) counts as “some combination”, but it’s probably not what you wanted your readers to believe you meant.

    Shame when one of your central arguments crumbles to dust with a single ride on a SLUT or a stroll of the FHSC construction zone.

    I’m sorry, Martin, but will find yourself on the wrong side of history here. The early-2000s streetcar revival will someday be lumped in with such failed urban-renewal zeitgeists as Dead Pedestrian Zones and Consolidated Entertainment Districts.

    1. The last time I reported on this, the FHSC had signal priority at 3 intersections. Inadequate, but I don’t know where you’re getting 0%.

      1. Well the SLUT does have that 200m of right-of-way south of Lake Union Park, which works out to a single-digit percentage.

        But the FHSC doesn’t have any dedicated right of way last time I checked.

      2. Oh, right, that 200m that it has to wait through an entire light cycle to access from either direction.

        What a brilliantly conceived and executed “combination”.

  12. I whipped up this completely geographically simplistic and fake Link map to show how I can see a four line light rail system (excluding Tacoma Link, RapidRide, and the Streetcars). It would only require East Link, Central Link (including extensions), and the proposed Ballard line. Basically it uses overlap to improve frequency and give riders more flexibility. With this proposal, every stop outside the transit tunnel will be covered by two lines and every stop inside the tunnel will be served by all four lines. Overlap like this is pretty common around the US with cities such as Portland, San Fran, Denver, Dallas, and Philadelphia using similar routing. Anyways, take a look please:
    http://tinyurl.com/oml4pgk

    1. Looks nice at first glance. However:

      * (Sound Transit insists that) the DSTT will be full with already-planned Central Link / East Link trains, leaving no room for a Ballard line. If you instead plan to decrease frequencies to fit your four lines in with the already-planned number of trains, that would send frequencies down to twelve or sixteen minutes – too long. I’d choose a transfer over that.

      * The Downtown-Northgate section will get much greater passenger volume than any of the other three, meaning it needs more service than any of the others. The only way to fit this into your four-line plan would be to give at least one other trunk just as much service… and with our driver-required trains, that isn’t free.

  13. Interesting piece on the decline of ridership on the Cascades. The decline will continue until Amtrak starts to lose money on this route (one of only two Amtrak routes that are currently profitable). Amtrak continues to shut out the voice of it’s regular passengers, inflexible schedules and prices that have more than doubled in the past three years. It’s a no-brainer to use Bolt Bus when you can buy a one-way ticket for as low as a $1 (most likely in the $8-$18 range) and I recently paid $54 for a one way ticket (booking 6 weeks in advance) on a Friday night in August. Personally, I am glad that Bolt Bus is giving them a run for their money and I could encourage those of you who have not used the Bolt Bus to check it out. It’s slightly better than Greyhound, has Wi-Fi, comfortable seats and caters to young students, business travelers and weekend tourists.

    1. Bolt Bus should do an on-board survey to find out where they are drawing customers from.

      That would make for interesting reading.

      I’m surprised they didn’t report their ridership numbers.
      (at least according to the ST blog article)

  14. Public transit goes on-demand in Helsinki

    The capital city of Finland has an on-demand minibus service run by the city’s transit agency. Kutsuplus, as the service is called, lets you choose where you want to be picked up by the bus and if you want a private trip (like using Uber) or a shared ride. If you decide to share a ride, an algorithm will determine the best route for getting you to your destination and picking up others, but you’re only charged as if you’re the only passenger. The minibuses can accommodate up to nine passengers.

    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/public-transit-goes-on-demand-in-helsinki/32331

    1. Kutsuplus sounds great…here’s another article:

      New Helsinki Bus Line Lets You Choose Your Own Route

      “Kutsuplus will often offer a better and more effective alternative for private car trips, even for the busy people,” said Rissanen. There’s free Wi-Fi on board, and riders don’t have to pay for parking. In the center of Helsinki, parking alone can be more than $5 per hour, so a semi-private minibus makes economic sense.

      Pricing also means that those who are well-served by existing bus routes will stick with them. “Currently we have about 1,000 bus stops and almost 500,000 different routes, correspondingly,” Rissanen said. “As the Kutsuplus fare is higher than that in a bus or metro, people who are served well with metro, will and should keep on using them.”

      http://www.wired.com/autopia/2013/10/on-demand-public-transit/

      1. Here’s the Kutsuplus site’s description of how to use the service.

        You can define the places of departure and destination on the basis of a street address or a stop number. You can also choose an address or stop on the map. The time of departure can be no more than some tens of minutes after the time of ordering.

        You can also reserve a space for the pram.

        https://kutsuplus.fi/tour

        (I guess English is the lingua franca in Finland!)

      2. Unfortunately, on-demand buses and predictable travel times simply do not mix, as you never know how much time is going to be spent taking detours to pick up and drop off other passengers until it’s too late to choose an alternate way to get where you’re going.

        Unpredictable travel times due to lots of random detours also tends to mean unpredictable wait times, compared to a regular old 15-minute headway fixed-route bus route.

      3. Having ridden transit in Helsinki, this seems very achievable. Key to this working is the fact that Helsinki has a wonderful street tram that covers most of the city. It might not work so well when you leave the city core but inside of the city I imagine the “preferred route” relies fairly heavily on taking the tram to the correct bus stop.

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