Here’s a collection of photos showing the latest construction progress on the S 200th Link extension. Column construction appears to be complete or nearly complete and guideway construction appears to be almost halfway complete.
From the platform of SeaTac/Airport Station looking south towards the guideway construction.
Seattle’s hourglass geography, increasing density and booming economy demand a world-class transit system. Metro still has work to do to restore lost credibility, but the benefits outweigh the costs.
Vote yes on Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1.
Many people expected the Times to recommend a No vote on this, based on the paper’s previous record of opposing transit funding. To me, however, this is an easy Yes for the ed board, for three reasons: (1) it’s narrowly focused on bus service and nothing else (2) it’s popular – Seattle voters have shown clearly they want to tax themselves. (3) it doesn’t go out of its way to soak the rich. (I’m avoiding using the “r” word here, but I’d be surprised if that wasn’t a factor in the board’s support.)
There’s another ballot measure on the horizon, for Sound Transit 3. It, too, will be narrowly focused. Expanding light rail is popular as well. It will be interesting to see how the Times comes down.
The resulting ST Express fares, if the proposal goes through, would be $2.75 for 1-county trips and $3.75 for multi-county trips. It would be a simple matter to raise the cash fare to an even $3 for 1-county trips and $4 for multi-county trips. If it helps push riders to pay by tapping ORCA, then that would be wonderful for the rest of the riders already doing their part. If riders insist on paying with cash, at least most of them would be just shoving in dollar bills, instead of fishing for bills, then fishing for change.
If these fares seem high, consider that they are still less than or equal to what Community Transit is charging for its express routes, in all payer categories.
Charging more for cash fares than ORCA fares is not taboo. King CountyFerries has been doing it for years. The low-income fare is ORCA-product-only, which means a de facto cash surcharge for low-income riders of $1.25 on 1-county ST Express trips and $1 on multi-county ST Express trips, if the Board approves staff’s fare proposal.
Given that most ST Express riders are already using ORCA, the reaction to tacking on an extra 25-cent cash surcharge for regular-fare payers would likely be something like this:
Join Seattle Transit Blog and Sound Transit staff for a Meet-Up Monday Oct 20 from 5-7 p.m. The venue will be Oktoberfest-friendly Altstadt in Pioneer Square. This is your chance to chat with STB writers and editors as well as ST’s new communications director Craig Davison. Other ST planning and operations staff will be there, too.
If you are new to town and want to meet a friendly bunch of transit advocates (geeks) or if you’re an STB regular, this will be a great opportunity to connect faces to names & handles.
Please feel free to invite friends, partners & spouses – and please use the comment thread to RSVP.
We shouldn’t lose sight of many ways King County Metro service has improved in the past several years. It is easy to do so in the midst of the constant financial struggles, plans for service cuts and measures to shore up funding (Plans A, B, C and now D) that dominate the news lately. This post catalogs 10 improvements that Metro has introduced over the past years – in case you are new or forgot how it used to be.
I began riding Metro buses around 15 years ago, and for many of those years catching a bus meant pulling out your trusty printed schedule, seeing when the next 30-minute frequency bus was scheduled, walking to the stop at the appropriate time, waiting 0 to 10 minutes for arrival (it was impossible to know when the bus would actually arrive), instinctively knowing whether to pay upon boarding (cash, paper ticket or flash pass ready) or later when exiting, after watching the surroundings carefully to know when I had arrived. Some people in some places still travel this way on transit, but Metro has provided lots of better options.
The top 10 Metro improvements begin after the jump.
Seattle needs more bus service. Prop 1 will deliver it.
Seattle is booming. According to the latest census forecasts, Seattle is now the fastest-growing large city in America. Between 2000 and 2014, we added almost 80,000 residents inside the city limits. Judging by all the construction cranes dotting the skyline, we’re nowhere near finished.
Yet despite the population growth, bus service in Seattle hasn’t expanded significantly in years. King County Metro tried twice to expand service over the last 15 years. Each time, unfortunately, an economic recession forced the agency to pull back, leaving service levels basically where they were in the ’90s. This September, Metro was in fact forced to cut service when various post-recession stopgaps finally ran out.
It should come as no surprise, then, that many buses are packed. On the most popular routes, buses are frequently so crowded that they have to leave passengers at the stop. After 7pm, many Seattle buses are infrequent. This makes things difficult for folks who work nights and weekends, or who just want to ride the bus for something other than commuting to work. Meanwhile, volatile tax revenue and years of crisis have diverted staff focus from improving the system.
This November, Seattle residents will have an opportunity to finally address some of the system’s problems instead of play defense. Seattle Transportation Proposition 1 would raise approximately $45m per year inside the city through a sales tax increase and a vehicle license fee, both expiring by 2021. Low-income residents would get a partial rebate on the license fee. This new revenue would translate to about 260,000 hours of new bus service per year if there are no further King County cuts.
Initially, this fall’s Transportation Prop 1 was conceived as yet another last-minute effort to save existing service. Fortunately, thanks to yet more belt-tightening at the agency and an improving economic climate, Transportation Prop 1 would instead expand service and improve reliability on dozens of Seattle’s core bus routes. More peak trips would be added to several routes, while others would see more service in the evenings and weekends. The legislation contains clear language that prevents Metro from using Seattle money elsewhere in the County.
Prop 1 isn’t perfect. We would prefer a countywide solution, but voters rejected that in April. Unfortunately, the money can only be spent on bus service, not on capital improvements like improving bus stations or adding new bus lanes. You will find no greater advocates for these projects than us, but we recognize that other measures can address these needs, and meanwhile demand for service is large.
A growing city needs a growing transit network. Proposition 1 provides the additional service the bus system needs.
The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, Matthew Johnson, and Brent White.
My black & white conversion of a Central Link train approaching SoDo Station
I encourage you to please take photos of transit. That full or almost full bus you’re riding on? Get a picture – then post to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Group. It helps lobby politicians for more transit service a lot more than just a quick, polite e-mail (which is always good). I’m certainly not asking for perfect pictures – just a quick iPod or phone picture will do.
When you can, please take a helicopter flight (perhaps using this Groupon as I did) and get some aerial photos involving transit. Then post to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Group what you have, with some comments on what you saw. Perhaps also add a paragraph about how you think the land use is or isn’t compatible with mass transit plans.
Also I moderate a group called Photoshopped Transit. That’s for folks like I that like to use mass transit as an opportunity to practice post processing techniques such as black & white conversions, selective saturation, photoshopping logos and the like. Even if you just use an iPad, iPod or iPhone with the VSCO Cam app adding easy color – that’s good enough for my group. Not asking for epic artwork here, just some artistic effort.
Why? Ultimately transit photography can be a non-confrontational way to advocate for transit. I know many of us in the Seattle Transit Blog community wish away election campaigns and shy away from politicking for a litany of reasons. Transit photography is a way to campaign without having to play the political games we have to play and play to win.
As the County Council deliberates the 2015-2016 budget, one of the most important discussions is how to maintain Metro’s current level of bus service today without increasing the risk of even greater service cuts in the future when the next, inevitable recession hits our region. Here at Metro, our goal is to avoid past experiences in which overly optimistic revenue forecasts failed to materialize and, as a result, we were unable to deliver the services promised to the public.
The topic is hotly debated, including on this blog. We welcome public discussion and ideas for developing a long-term sustainable funding model for Metro. I read Mr. Whitehead’s recent analysis, and while it includes good observations it overlooks two important aspects: the inherent volatility of sales tax revenue, and the disconnect between the formal economic forecast that predicts uninterrupted growth and the well-established cycle that our region experiences a periodic recession.
This is an important and honest debate. We’ve taken major steps over six years to preserve service through innovation and continuous improvement. The proposed 2015-2016 budget reflects these realized savings and finds new ways to preserve some additional service previously proposed for cuts. For the first time in preparing Metro’s budget, we analyzed historical impacts of mild to severe recessions. Through this analysis, it was determined that a prudent reserve target should be set at levels that would allow us to ride out something in between: a moderate recession lasting three to four years. The reserve account is aptly named the Revenue Stabilization Reserve and was created by the County Council in 2011 to serve exactly this function of moderating and absorbing the unpredictable swings of our economy. Until now there was insufficient revenue to put into this fund.
Over the longer term, we also want to have a budget and finances that we believe are sustainable. Let’s remember, twice since 2000 Metro has relied on optimistic and ever-growing forecasts of future revenue only to have recessions (the dot-com recession of 2001-02 and the Great Recession of 2008-10) wipe out expected revenue as people stopped spending – causing Metro to scale back promises of added service. (See sales tax volatility chart – which shows recessions in the 1990s, early 2000s and 2008.)
Under county code, Metro must use the independent Office of Economic and Financial Analysis forecast which in its most recent forecast shows uninterrupted sales tax increases from 2011-2024. Such sustained growth would be without precedent, but Metro accepted these forecasts in the past: in 2000 after the 0.2 percent sales tax measure that partially replaced MVET, and in 2006 with the 0.1 percent sales tax for Transit Now. The 2015-2016 budget the Executive submitted and that Whitehead refers to also must use this forecast. Therefore the near and mid-term financial balance sheet shows substantial cash in our Revenue Stabilization Reserve (aka rainy day fund). Readers must remember this is a forecast; we have not collected this money, it exists only on paper. Continue reading “What is Financial Sustainability for Metro?”
Regrettably we’ve had a little technical trouble with certain Page 2 posts ending up on the front page for a short while, and therefore going out on twitter, facebook, and RSS without proper editorial scrutiny.
We apologize for this problem and hope it gets better as we get comfortable with the managment interface.
In some cases, like Atlanta, the rider has to go through a separate qualification process to determine whether it is safe for her/him to ride the fixed routes at all.
A little discussion about personal care attendants is in order, since paratransit riders are paratransit riders because they are unable to ride the fixed routes (or at least some of the fixed routes, some of the time) independently. Personal care attendants ride paratransit for free when accompanying a paratransit-qualified rider, but can be charged a fare on fixed routes, even when accompanying that same passenger. Companions other than a PCA can be charged fare on either service. The Federal Transit Administration has FAQ pages that cover these topics.
The Transit Cooperative Research Program produced a report on some of the challenges involved in, and potential savings from, diverting paratransit rides to fixed routes. The report gives a clear reason to encourage paratransit-qualified riders to travel on fixed routes whenever possible:
According to the 2011 National Transit Database, the average operating cost per unlinked bus trip was $3.60 ($1.80 and $3.20, respectively, for heavy and light rail trips). In contrast, the average operating cost per demand responsive trip—of which ADA paratransit comprises the greatest portion—was $32.70. As a result, transit systems have a great financial incentive to have persons with disabilities use fixed-route transit rather than ADA paratransit when they can. (p.1)
Access riders pay $1.25 per Access ride, or the regular Regional Reduced Fare Permit fare (75 cents) on fixed routes. A PCA can ride free on all Metro and ST services when accompanying a rider with a PCA RRFP. Access riders who buy a monthly RRFP pass get $0.75 cents credit toward their $1.25 Access fare, but also ride free on all Metro buses, as well as Link and 1-county ST Express. A couple years ago, Sound Transit started letting Access riders who buy Metro’s $45 monthly Access pass ride *all* Sound Transit services for free. (p. 11)
Every year, Sound Transit goes through a process of producing an annual service implementation plan (SIP). Staff takes the previous year’s final SIP, and adds the current year’s performance measurements and any new proposals. The community gets time to offer input. Then, the Board of Directors makes the final decision on approval of the SIP.
A new ST Express route between Lakewood Station and Puyallup Station — dubbed route 580 — is proposed. Route 580 would provide 20 new trips each day, mostly timed connections with both peak-direction and counter-peak-direction Sounder. Route 580 would also serve SR 512 P&R, South Hill P&R, and the Puyallup Fairgrounds Red Lot. (p.86)
Link peak frequency may improve to every 6 minutes during peak as early as September 2015. (p.92) The projections still show Link running out of standing room during the peak of peak by 2018. (p.93)
South Sounder is still scheduled to add a peak-direction round trip and a reverse-direction round trip in September 2016, and then an off-peak round trip in September 2017. (p.94)
A wish list (subtly styled “Immediate Needs”) of additional service on ST Express includes suggested, but unfunded, added runs on routes 510, 511, 512, 522, 532, 545, 550, 554, 556, 560, 566, 567, 574, 577, 578, 590, and 594. (pp.99-100)
Elements of the Transit Integration Report have been rolled into the SIP, including a restructure of SR 520 service around the opening of U-Link. (p.94) However, staff is still working on these proposals, and they will be presented to the Board in the form of amendments to the 2015 SIP, in May or June of next year. (p.8)
The previous proposals for 2016 to restructure route 574 to serve Angle Lake Station, and to replace route 586 with a new route between downtown Tacoma and north downtown Seattle (now proposed to be numbered 591) still stand. (p.94)
Inter-agency teams are working out plans to deal with long-term construction re-routes. (p.95)
As per tradition, the SIP contains reams of data on ridership, and other performance measures. We’ll dig in deeper in later posts, especially into some of the route performance trends and the mysteriously conservative revenue forecasting.
Again, this is only a draft SIP. Ultimately, it is up to Sound Transit’s Board to act on the SIP’s wish list for additional ST Express runs, and to approve the “final” version of the 2015 SIP.
Check back here for a list of open houses on the SIP.
A public hearing on the SIP will be held Thursday, November 6, 12:00-12:30 pm, in the Ruth Fisher Boardroom at Union Station, 401 S. Jackson St.
A few weeks ago, a neighbor of mine in the Issaquah Highlands noted that the 1,000-parking-space Park and Ride near our neighborhood was filled to capacity on a recent weekday. I got to thinking, if people wanted to use public transit in our relatively dense neighborhood, that park and ride is all we have. The majority of our neighborhood’s homes aren’t within 1/4 of a mile of the bus routes, and there’s a decent sized hill between many homes and the park and ride.
I decided to seek a rush hour shuttle service that would take people from where they live and get them to the park and ride, where there are several rush hour bus routes to Bellevue, Issaquah and Seattle. At a time of service cuts at Metro, there is no chance of a service expansion — in fact Metro recently cut service on several of our city’s routes.
However, Metro does have a program to allow cities to buy service. I contacted Metro and spoke with Michelle Allison, a self described “transit geek” working on the Community Mobility Contracts project, which allows cities to purchase Metro service. Community Mobility Contracts are a “full cost recovery” program, meaning that cities pay 100% of net costs to Metro. So if the route would cost $200,000 a year, that’s what it costs your city. Also, even if your route happens to recover an above-average amount at the fare box, they charge you the system average. For example, if you collect $100 in fares on your route that costs $200, Metro only gives you credit for collecting $60. For a low-performing line, this could be a benefit. For a high-performing line, it would be a drawback. My quick math (based on this article) is that a shuttle service like this might actually net higher than average cost recovery, so this makes Metro’s service look less desirable than it might otherwise look.
Next, I approached Hopelink, a social service provider on the Eastside. Many people don’t know that Hopelink provides all of the buses for Metro’s DART Bus service. They quickly returned messages, and came back with an estimate of $75/hr (almost 1/2 of what Metro’s average cost is). Even without any farebox recovery, that brings the cost to approximately $113,000 per year.
Finally, I spoke with the neighborhood association to see if there was interest in paying for this service. Initial comments included concern about the cost and whether the City of Issaquah and service users would be paying for part of the costs. I’m working on scheduling a meeting with the President of my association to assess next steps.
I’m excited about my nascent effort to expand transit options in my neighborhood, and curious if my efforts will bear any fruit. I’m hopeful that this service upgrade could mean fewer car trips and perhaps allow some people to downgrade from 2 cars to 1. The Issaquah Highlands is never going to be downtown Seattle, but perhaps some additional transit options can improve people’s lives. I hope to share my findings soon.
David Lawson’s recent post very nicely laid out the contrasting views of Metro general manager Kevin Desmond and Council member Rod Dembowski regarding the need for Metro’s proposed 2015 and 2016 service cuts. Higher forecast sales-tax revenue and Metro efficiency improvements have raised the issue, and the disagreement now has centered on two reserve funds.
Generally speaking, there are two important questions to answer: (1) is the current service level (annual service hours) sustainable in the long term?, and (2) is there sufficient reserve to respond to un-anticipated, shorter-term dips in revenue? If current service IS long-term sustainable, it seems unfortunate to cut service levels in order to sort out reserves.
In any event, I think it might be useful to take a look at the numbers. I reviewed the most recent Metro proposed financial plan (see p. 776 of this download, reproduced below) and estimated what the plan would be without the proposed 2015-16 service cuts.
The results suggest that the cuts are NOT necessary. Even without the cuts and with an unusually large capital spending program in 2015-16, Metro’s overall reserves would increase from now to the end of 2020. So Metro looks to be long-term sustainable with current service levels.
On the other hand, the Council and Executive DO face the task of developing a policy for the RSR – what fraction of a year’s operating expense should it have? – and sorting out how to achieve and maintain that level.
In May Mayor Murray unveiled Proposition 1 to avert the 2015 and 2016 Metro cuts for routes largely in the City of Seattle. With the planned cuts withering away quickly, and possibly disappearing altogether, that purpose suddenly became untenable. Without skipping a beat, the campaign switched to the narrative that this service would buy more bus service.
The measure text, thankfully, considers this possibility. After first maintaining the October 2014 service level, and allotting small sums for “regional partnerships” and access for low-income riders, the measure states that
…remaining revenues may then be used to address overcrowding, reliability, and service frequency within the City of Seattle through the purchase of additional Metro Transit bus service hours on routes with more than 80 percent of their stops within City of Seattle limits and consistent with the Seattle Transit Master Plan and Metro’s Service Guidelines.
There’s a lot to like here, a few things that could go either way, and one item that is not good.
Most importantly, the overall service level Metro provides Seattle is not adequate to provide frequent, all day service for high-demand corridors. It’s certainly true that less conservatism in preserving existing routes could achieve this at a lower cost than simply adding more service. However, even handing the whole system to David Lawson would require a 33% increase in service hours to reach the point of diminishing returns, after North Link opens and takes over significant load. We won’t get there with this measure, but Prop 1 is an important step to that service level.
Charles Mudede’s anecdote about renting makes a basically correct argument that our cities will eventually invert their late-20th century income pattern. But on the way there he repeats a common critique of the rising rent:
The rent for her flat… recently increased to $1,000. Yes, her flat is tiny. Yes, everyone has heard the same story over and over. Yes, no one is doing anything about it, and nor can anyone do anything about it because the economic forces at work in this growing city are much deeper and more powerful than its form of democracy.
The section I’ve bolded strikes me as exactly backwards: high housing prices are the triumph of “democracy:” in this case, hyperlocal groups of active citizens championing severe regulatory constraints on housing supply, and (sometimes incidentally) boosting their house values in the process.
There’s an interesting debate on just how democratic the process really is. How representative are these active voices, and is the neighborhood the appropriate scope of interests to consider? Moreover, any democratic process will almost certainly underweight the interests of future residents, which is really what new housing projects are about.
Nevertheless, once you’ve put hard limits on housing supply, politics and economics merely decide who gets in to the inadequate number of homes. Under capitalism, given decent living conditions in the city, it’s the rich; in a rent control regime, it’s longtime residents and the well-connected. In a system where the government owned all the housing, it’d be politically favored groups. But any and all of these systems are inherently less fair than building homes in Seattle for all who want them.
Job growth and Seattle’s desirability as a place to live keep pushing up demand, which leads to higher housing costs. Close to 44,000 people moved to Seattle in the past four years and another 120,000 are projected to arrive during the next 20.
Housing development also ballooned in recent years: Builders added 35,600 homes, including houses and apartments, from 2005 to 2013. Without those homes, housing costs would be even higher.
The city’s rapid growth demonstrates its capacity to accommodate new residents. Increasingly, they are single people living alone, and poor people and families are on their way out.
City officials say they want affordable housing for all and that housing should be fair and equitable — important ideals. But what’s clear is that Seattle needs more housing that is subsidized and market-rate.
Next, the head of the Master Builders in the DJC wants more construction, and don’t seem particularly concerned whether it’s infill or sprawl.
Running counter to Vision 2040 and the Growth Management Act, many jurisdictions in the Central Puget Sound area are resisting new growth and urban density, making it difficult to provide new housing. In some cases, local governments are acting in response to local activists opposed to growth.
In Seattle, infill development remains the primary option for accommodating growth. However, an ordinance adopted in 2012 made it much harder to build on smaller lots — one of several actions reducing the buildable land supply in the city without adding an adequate supply of new housing to the equation.
In King and Snohomish counties the current buildable land is expensive or significantly impacted by environmental constraints. Regulations such as critical areas ordinances, and stormwater and floodplain rules, create added layers of no-build areas inside UGAs.
This is worryingly plausible: if the Puget Sound’s cities can’t meet the housing demand, then the Cascade foothills are likely to take the brunt of it instead.
As far as the commission goes, it’s a mixed bag. As I’ve noted in the past, the Murray Doctrine is predictable (but effective!): gather as many people as possible onto a committee and find a way to give everyone something. Mark Schmitt, in a seminal 2007 article on Barack Obama’s “theory of change,” articulated the committee strategy thusly:
One way to deal with [conservatives’] bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that’s not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists — it’s a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict. It’s how you deal with people with intractable demands — put ‘em on a committee. Then define the committee’s mission your way.
That’s all well and good, but I do worry that the committee strategy might hit the skids this time around. With taxis and the minimum wage, there were real, specific stakes (legalizing Uber, $15/hour) that could demonstrably be achieved or not. Those stakes acted as a forcing function, leading the committees to a resolution. The affordable housing committee, by contrast, could easily produce a report full of blue-ribbon bromides (“create partnerships with local institutions to blah blah blah”) that have little practical effect. The Mayor seems fully aware of the challenge.
If I were on the committee (and I’m willing to serve if asked!), I’d want a real working definition of “affordable housing” and a specific legislation to achieve it. I’ve suggested such metrics in the past, but I’m more than happy to accept alternative definitions as well.
Seattle Transit Blog commenter Nathaniel Williams put together a very detailed infographic of all downtown skyscrapers currently in the pipeline. While it shows just how strong our growth is, what jumps out is just how restrictive our zoning is. I don’t think it coincidence that almost half of all buildings will be 440 feet. What do we gain by limiting who can live or work downtown? Is it worth the damage caused by forcing people into the sprawling, polluting, inefficient and unproductive suburbs and exurbs? Continue reading “Skyscraper Infographic Highlights Growth and Zoning”