County Budget Poised to Pass With No Further Metro Service Cuts

KCM New Flyer XDE35 #3705

On Thursday the King County Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee unanimously approved a 2015-16 budget ordinance that “maintains current levels of transit services.” The Council will formally take up the proposed budget in its scheduled meeting on Monday, November 17.  As all 9 council members serve on the Budget committee and voted to approve, approval is likely in the Council itself on Monday.

The proposed budget also:

  • Increases funding to $6M per year (corrected from “per biennium”) for an alternative-services “demonstration program” intended to “right size [transit] service options and help those communities most affected by recent service reductions.” The program will be led by Metro and “include discussion with local governments, nonprofit organizations, private businesses, community groups, and other stakeholders in communities where fixed-route transit may not be a cost-effective option.”
  • As part of the alternative-services program, provides for a regional task force to review and make recommendations regarding the Metro Service Guidelines. These are intended to be reflected in revisions to the [Metro] Strategic Plan and in further policy details for transit service agreements with cities.
  • Funds study of  “transition to a cashless fare system… [and elimination] of paper transfers”
  • Approves a low-income fare
  • Increases the number of discounted tickets for nonprofit agencies
  • Maintains the  target level for the fleet replacement reserve (RFRF) at 30% of estimated full replacement cost
  • Funds the recently-enacted “permanent Metro transit audit function”
  • Funds a “Strategic Technology Roadmap for Transit” to “address how technology will be used in the future to support Transit in delivering transit services”
  • Provides for a strategic plan to address “the housing affordability and homelessness crisis”  and specifically includes “microhousing” among the solutions to be considered.

The Ordinance itself does not include a revised Financial Plan for Metro that reflects its provisions, nor the impact on the Revenue Stabilization Reserve. But for those interested, this report by Council staff  evaluates financial plan scenarios of different service levels, reserve policies, and economic forecast assumptions. In that document, Scenario 3 seems to correspond to the recommended budget, and Scenario 4 evaluates that plan in the case of a “moderate recession.”

News Roundup: Council Hopefuls

Tacoma Trestle
Photo by Sound Transit

This is an open thread.

Nine Awesome Revenue-Positive Policy Changes Made Politically Possible By Low-Income ORCA

Be kind to your fellow passengers:  Please don't pay with cash.
Be kind to your fellow passengers: Don’t pay with cash.

As the county council urges King County Metro Transit to look for more change in the couch, it is time for the county council to consider finally embracing ORCA. For reals. The extra 4.5 to 6.7 seconds it takes for a cash fumbler to board (vs. tapping an ORCA card) adds up, especially when it happens downtown with a dozen buses held up behind the bus on which the rider is fumbling change.

Here are nine awesome policy changes the county council could enact, thanks to the low-income ORCA program removing the excuse that these policies could somehow hurt poor riders. Bring on the efficiency!

1. Enact an ORCA discount / cash surcharge on every other category of fare payer. Where possible, round the cash fare to the next dollar up. King County Ferries and the Low-Income ORCA have paved the way for charging more for cash fares than ORCA fares.

2. Eliminate paper transfers and the cottage mass fare evasion industry that has evolved around them. Keep paper slips only for use on fare-enforced buses (i.e. RapidRide), good only on that one trip.

3. Remove the peak / off-peak differential. The differential has been ineffective at pushing riders to ride off-peak, and now will be a discount for non-low-income riders off-peak, since the low-income fare doesn’t change by time of day.

4. Ban cash payment at bus doors in the transit tunnel. Add more ORCA Boarding Assistants where needed to smoothe out boarding bottlenecks. Moving some buses from the overcrowded Bay A to Bay B will also help, or just move up the timetable for having only one bay per platform.

5. Turn 3rd Ave into a proof-of-payment / fare inspection zone, with cash payment at the door banned. Riders can handle the one-time inconvenience of going to get an ORCA. Low-income riders will have gone through much more hassle than that.

6. Create an express fare, as suggested in the American Public Transportation Association’s peer review of Metro (p.8). Low-income riders on those routes will already be paying a flat fare, so Title VI shouldn’t be an issue for routes going to poorer suburbs. This express fare would help improve some performance measurements, most notably fare recovery.

7. Create a separate, higher DART fare, or a diversion fare, as suggested in APTA’s peer review. (p.8)

8. Create a low-income Access fare, set at the current regular Access fare, and raise the non-low-income Access fare all the way up to the same as the regular peak fare ($2.75 after March 2015). Tack on a cash payment surcharge matching the cash surcharge on the regular buses, so that riders have an incentive to take advantage of the pre-payment program. Do like many other agencies are doing, and give Access riders and a companion the freedom to ride the fixed routes for free. This might actually yield the largest operational savings in the whole list.

9. Now that there is no card fee for the low-income ORCA, eliminate the $5 card fee for everyone else, and require at least $5 of loaded ORCA product to be purchased when getting a new card. 8 of the 17 bus smart cards around the country are free after rebates, and the rest cost no more than $2.
The problem with riders nonchalantly throwing out ORCA cards will now be just among riders who don’t have a low-income ORCA, so target the don’t-throw-way-your-ORCA incentives to the middle-to-upper-income demographic.

Apply for the Sounding Board

I encourage thoughtful readers who live in immediate area of likely U-Link service changes to apply to serve on Metro’s sounding board. I have no idea what changes Metro is planning, but I did serve on the sounding board for Southeast Seattle reorganization in  2008-9 and found it to be a rewarding experience.

In that process, staff presented several service options and asked for feedback about them. Although the sounding board didn’t win every battle, it prevailed in many of these binary choices. Its input reflected the lived experience of the board about the way that people use transit in the area.

If you live on Capitol Hill or near Montlake, and live and breathe the route planning principles that STB staff writers go on about, then obviously I think you’d be a great candidate for the board. Even if you’re not sold on STB’s values, a knowledgable reader familiar with the principles of transit planning, and with vision beyond the specific routes that they ride, would be an asset to the process.

Corridor 25: The Oddball

Many commenters noticed an oddball among the potential new corridors being considered for inclusion in Sound Transit’s long-range plan (LRP). Corridor 25 calls for high-capacity transit from Ballard to Queen Anne to the Central District to West Seattle(!).

Now, like most of the updates discussed in last week’s workshop, Corridor 25 may not make it to the final LRP. As Adam noted in his writeup, it didn’t have many people speaking out on its behalf. ST spokesperson Geoff Patrick noted that the corridor, like many others, was included based on public feedback during the comment period.

While Corridor 25 might not have many fans, it represents a significant departure from the X-shaped system Seattle has been talking about building since the ’60s. It acknowledges that development has moved north from downtown since then, and any long-range planning document ought to at least consider the possibility of high-capacity transit through South Lake Union, the fastest-growing jobs center in the city. Heck, it might even accommodate a sorely-needed second station somewhere on Capitol Hill.

Finally, this corridor opens up our minds to the idea that all North-South HCT must go through downtown Seattle. Despite all of what we know about the advantages of grid-based transit networks, the high-capacity transit we’re building and planning generally follows a radial approach.

The deck seems stacked against Corridor 25 making it into the LRP.  West Seattle and/or Ballard will probably ultimately be served via a line from Downtown, as expected.  But here in this moment, when things are still in flux and it’s all still lines on a map, it’s interesting to ponder.

Metro Test-Driving Off-Wire Trolleys

King County Metro XT40

If you’ve been on the streets of Seattle lately, you may have noticed one of Metro’s prototype 40 foot trolleys cruising the streets. Identical twins 4300 and 4301–officially New Flyer XT40 trolleys–are out simulating service on a 90 day test run. This allows Metro to identify any minor adjustments that might be needed prior to New Flyer’s production run beginning in early 2015. The remaining 84 vehicles will start arriving in June and will hit the streets after they’ve been tested and had various accessories installed (farebox, bike rack, radios, etc). The 60 foot prototype will arrive around March 2015, with production of the remaining 54 beginning in late 2015 or early 2016.

Continue reading “Metro Test-Driving Off-Wire Trolleys”

Community Transit Proposes Restored Sunday Service

Proposed Sunday Network map, courtesy of Community Transit

Community Transit has proposed a 25-cent increase for adult and DART fares to help fund 27,000 hours of restored service, including 18,000 hours of Sunday and holiday service on 16 local bus routes beginning as early as June 7, 2015.

Swift would get 20 minute frequencies on Sunday, last seen before the June 2010 service cuts, while major routes in Southwest Snohomish County, Marysville and Arlington would get hourly service. “Rural lifeline routes” serving far-flung cities such as Stanwood and Gold Bar would see buses every two hours on Sundays. CT hopes to fully restore Sunday and holiday service that was cut in 2010, with the 2015 proposal funding 65 percent of the lost hours but covering the same area. The ultimate goal for the agency is to operate the same amount of service on Saturdays and Sundays as a single weekend schedule.

Full list of routes after the jump.

Continue reading “Community Transit Proposes Restored Sunday Service”

September 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Rolling Along

Sep14WeekdayMovingAVGFollowing the pattern of the last 5 years, Link ridership began it’s winter lull in September, however weekday ridership still grew an amazing 15.2% over September 2013.

September’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 35,157 / 28,778 / 25,580, growth of 15.2%, 14.2%, and 13.3% respectively over September 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 15.0% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership increased 0.4%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.2%. System wide weekday boardings were up 10.2%, and all boardings were up 13.6%. The complete September Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the fold. Continue reading “September 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Rolling Along”

SDOT & Metro Propose Straightening RapidRide C

Map of Proposed C Line Change, near Alaska Junction
Proposed C Line Change

SDOT and Metro are proposing a simple improvement to RapidRide C:

The proposal would revise the northbound RapidRide C Line route from its current routing on 44th Avenue[…]. Instead of turning left onto SW Edmunds Street, inbound RapidRide buses would remain on California Avenue SW before turning right onto SW Alaska Street. This realignment would reduce morning peak travel times an average of about one minute. It provides a more direct route through West Seattle and eliminates transit delay time due to vehicle congestion at the existing transit stop on SW Alaska Street at 44th Avenue SW. Routing for outbound service would not change under this proposal.

Transit riders heading into Downtown Seattle would board the RapidRide C Line east of California Avenue, across the street from the new Junction Plaza park. Four parking spaces on the SW corner of SW Alaska Street would be removed to provide enough space for the transit stop. […]

If approved, the new routing is proposed for implementation in early 2015.

It seems to me that this change will make the C Line faster, more reliable, and more direct, while maintaining the utility of the Alaska Junction transfer point. Relocating a bus stop shouldn’t be particularly expensive, so it sounds like a great idea to me. If you have thoughts on the project, email them to Jonathan Dong.

The same SDOT study which yielded this proposal is also studying improvements on the outbound D Line in Ballard, namely a queue jump northbound at Emerson, and a northbound BAT lane between Leary and Market (which might entail widening the roadway). Information on the feasibility of those potential D Line improvements are expected before the end of the year.

News Roundup: Sounding Board

Where should this bus go in 2016? (Oran – Flickr)
Where should this bus go in 2016? (Oran – Flickr)

This is an open thread.

TransitScreen Launches Downtown



The TransitScreen service is a live, real-time display of all transportation options within close proximity of a determined location (including bus, light-rail, bikeshare, and carshare). The screen makes multi-modal travel information more accessible, viewable and engaging so that commuters, visitors, and employees can make informed decisions about travel options. TransitScreen is currently available in 20 other locations in North America including Washington DC, San Francisco, Baltimore, Houston, Raleigh-Durham, Salt Lake City and San Diego.

The screen installed in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower is the first Transit Screen in Seattle. We are proud to showcase this new technology along with companies such as Amazon and Children’s Hospital who also plan to install these screens.

This is a great development for riders, especially the combination of modes such as bikeshare and carshare. I hope it gets more widespread adoption, and I love how SDOT is getting scrappy and installing real-time information where they can, whether it’s these transit screens or the One Bus Away signs that started appearing a couple years back.

And yet, if I can be a design pedant for a second, it bothers me that Seattle transit information systems put so little thought into a common visual vocabulary. Metro has their signage and schemes, ST has theirs, and SDOT is just looking for ways to make people’s lives easier on a shoestring. Nothing stands out to give the rider a uniform sense of “oh, there’s transit service over here.”

It would be so wonderful if, at some point, someone came along and did for Seattle’s transit wayfinding and signage what Vignelli’s 1970 standards manual did for New York’s MTA.

Election Results Roundup


Locally, the election story is pretty good for transit advocates. Seattle voters decisively supported more bus service 59% to 41% and the monorail revival is losing by 60 points. These are both victories for the local political establishment and, in our opinion, transit riders.

In the legislature, all of our endorsed candidates are winning except Matt Isenhower in the 45th. The bigger picture, however, is entrenched Republican control of the Senate and the probability of no action on most issues. The good news is they may block bad highway projects the Democratic majority supports; the bad news is they may make the path for ST3 that much more difficult.

Nationally, as you’ve probably heard, Republicans retook the U.S. Senate. In our world that’s mainly notable for Patty Murray no longer being chair of the Budget Committee, where she has been very effective delivering federal money for local projects.

Election Night Open Thread

With transit on the ballot here, prospects for a GOP takeover in the U.S. Senate, Washington Democrats trying to retake a Senate majority, and lots and lots of ballot initiatives, there is no shortage of things to talk about as tonight’s election results come in.

Locally, expect results to start coming in shortly after 8pm. Seattle’s Prop 1 campaign will also be hosting a party at Comet Tavern from 7-9pm tonight.

This is an open thread. 

No Link Service on November 15th

Wings 777 (Flickr)

In order to complete systems upgrades in advance of University Link’s opening, still 15-17 months away, Link will be entirely shut down on Saturday, November 15th. Bus replacement service will be offered in two variants:

  • For those who pine for the old 194, Route 97A will offer nonstop express service from SeaTac to Westlake (3rd/Pine)
  • Route 97 will make all stops between Westlake and SeaTac Airport except Beacon Hill and Mount Baker, which will see no replacement service.

Due to SDOT construction, riders at Beacon Hill and Mount Baker should prepare for additional travel time and reduced frequency. Route 36 (22 minutes) is 69% slower than Link (13 minutes) between Westlake and Beacon Hill, while Route 7 (30 minutes) is 100% slower than Link (15 minutes) between Westlake and Mount Baker. In addition, cash payers headed to Beacon Hill should plan an additional $.25 fare, as Route 36 is $2.25 vs. Link’s $2.00.  Finally, riders headed to Mt Baker from SeaTac, Tukwila, or the Rainier Valley should be prepared for a transfer to Route 8, which runs every 15 minutes during the day but only every 30 minutes after 7:30pm.

At the time of publishing, there is no information yet on Metro’s alerts page, but Sound Transit sources confirm that this will be a full closure of the Downtown Transit Tunnel as well. Riders on weekend tunnel routes (41, 71, 72, 73, 101, 106, 150, 255, and 550) should board at designated surface locations. Sound Transit staff will be on hand at Westlake to help direct both ST and Metro passengers to appropriate stops.

UPDATE: I emailed Bruce Gray for further information on the closure, and more specifics about the system upgrades, and this is his response:

[The] Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system [is] being upgraded. It’s the system that essentially tracks and can control where all the trains are on the line at any given moment. The upgrades include new displays and hardware at the Link Control Center and the communications software and hardware system wide that talk to the LCC. We may also have to do similar shutdowns in the spring as we upgrade the emergency ventilation systems and building management systems for the underground stations. Think of it like going from Windows 95 to Windows 10.

It wasn’t an easy decision to take the entire line down for these upgrades, but the more the engineers looked at it, the more sense it made to do the cutover over the span of one service day instead of piecemeal during the brief overnight maintenance windows.

Sound Transit’s full release after the jump.

Continue reading “No Link Service on November 15th”

Metro’s Xcelsiors hit the streets

Metro’s 35 foot Xcelsiors hit the streets for the first time this week. These coaches replace and supplement the retired 35 foot Gilligs (3185-3199). Coaches 3702-3705 have been seen on routes 246 and 269. The coaches will be numbered 3700-3759 and will be spread out amongst South Base (28), North Base (12) and Bellevue Base (20). Next year we should begin to see sixty 40 foot Xcelsiors arriving at Bellevue Base.

King County Metro New Flyer XDE35
Photo by the author
Continue reading “Metro’s Xcelsiors hit the streets”

Sawant Revives Head Tax

Kshama Sawant

Kshama Sawant hasn’t given up on more progressive different taxes for transit ($):

Whether or not voters approve Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1, Sawant says, she will ask her council colleagues to support a budget amendment that would raise additional money for Metro Transit…

Her plan calls for an annual head tax of $18 per employee and a commercial-parking-tax hike of 5 percent, which she says could together raise an estimated $20 million a year

“Many council members said, ‘This is not the right time to talk about it. We need Prop. 1 to pass. Let’s talk about it during the budget,’ ” she said. “Well, here were are.”

Good for Ms. Sawant to call attention to the continuing need for investment in the bus system. Even if Prop. 1 passes, we will not have reached the point of diminishing returns for bus service.

Her office has not yet clarified if she is open to funding bus speed and reliability capital improvements using this money. Prop. 1 regrettably excludes this purpose, which through a one-time expenditure could improve the experience of riders, make transit viable for more people, and often save Metro and the City operating costs in the long run. It is often both a cheaper solution than adding a bus trip and better for riders. Although there are cases where more bus trips are the right answer, additional flexibility for SDOT will allow them to do the most good for the most riders.

A good list of projects to start with is in the Transit Master Plan, pages 3-14 to 3-24. The Council does not need a ballot measure to approve these taxes.

Building Transit on I-405

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

In recent weeks, Sound Transit has released several corridor reports for the Eastside.  These were previewed in meetings in May and June, but I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the options for Sound Transit on the Eastside. The reports offer quite a bit more detail, and some occasional editorial comment. First up, I-405.

Sound Transit has a long-held commitment to BRT on I-405, dating to Sound Move in 1996, and updating the I-405 master plan in 2002. The master plan envisioned all-day service with 10 minute headways along the length of the corridor. Since then, Sound Transit has built a number of HOV direct access ramps on the highway and transit center projects serving local and regional service along the corridor more generally. Most of those are toward the north end of the corridor, in places such as Totem Lake in Kirkland. Practically speaking, this has translated to a set of express services on the highway that are low-frequency outside peak, and subject to reliability issues in the increasingly crowded HOV lanes.

Continue reading “Building Transit on I-405”