The 10 year concession agreement for operation of the Seattle Center Monorail will be discussed at this Tuesday’s meeting of the Seattle City Council Parks, Center, Libraries and Equity Committee. Thanks to commenter Ricky for pointing out this opportunity to comment on monorail operations. The City has already received a Request for Proposal from the current operator, Seattle Monorail Services, which basically continues the status quo.  If you are unable to attend the Council Committee meeting on Tuesday, December 2nd at 9:30 a.m in the Seattle City Council Chambers, you may send comments to the Seattle City Council members on the committee: Jean Godden, Bruce Harrell, Tom Rasmussen and Kshama Sawant (alternate).

The Seattle Center Monorail is a publicly-owned asset operated for private profit (of which the City receives a cut). The monorail does not accept Orca cards or Puget passes; it is cash only. Due to these fare policies it is generally ignored by local residents and workers. An amendment to the legislation authorizing the concession agreement could require that the private operator install payment readers for Orca cards and accept Puget Passes, similar to the City-owned Seattle Streetcar. As a revenue offset, cash fares could be raised significantly (San Francisco charges a $6 cash fare for cable cars). The Seattle DOT budget could be used to offset any remaining revenue loss due to accepting passes, just as it is used to subsidize streetcar operations. The table below summarizes the dissimilar fare policies of the monorail and the Seattle Streetcar, also owned by the City of Seattle.

Seattle Center Monorail

Seattle Streetcar

Regular Cash Fare

$2.25

$2.50

Youth Cash Fare

$1.00 (age 5 – 12)

$1.25 (age 6 – 17)

Senior/Disabled Cash Fare

$1.00

$0.75

Orca Readers

No

Yes

Accept Puget Pass

No ($45/month pass available)

Yes

The monorail is Seattle’s most underappreciated grade-separated rail asset. It travels between Westlake Center to the Seattle Center grounds in 2 minutes at 10 minute frequencies, all day and evening long. Yet tens of thousands of residents daily ride the myriad of surface buses between downtown and Mercer Street, taking at least 10 and occasionally as much as 30 minutes to traverse this short distance. Why? One big reason is the lack of fare integration. Monorail fare integration is a transit best practice that would greatly improve mobility in the area.

94 Replies to “ACTION ALERT: Fare Integrate the Seattle Center Monorail”

  1. I’ve never understood why the Monorail wasn’t integrated into the rest of the system. It is run as a novelty rather than as transportation.

    ORCA aside, the cash-only policy causes a lot of headaches at the ticket lines.

    And then there is very little promotion of it from the Westlake Transit Center. The transfer is quite easy, up to the mezzanine and then a short elevator ride directly into the Monorail terminal. But the elevator is poorly marked and often reeks of urine (the “smellevator”). For tourists it would make sense to have a big sign saying “Seattle Center” pointing to the elevator.

    1. The signage for the monorail inside the Transit Tunnel leaves much to be desired.

      I rode that elevator last night with about 6 other people and it didn’t smell. At all. Not even a little. Of course, it just takes one person using it as a bathroom to ruin that.

      My biggest complaint about that elevator is it’s slow and loud. The whole ride down I was just thinking “don’t get stuck, don’t get stuck.”

      1. On this point, Seattle Center (when it isn’t closed off for a private event, like Bumbershoot) and Westlake Center are to be commended. Public restrooms!

      2. The signage in the Downtown Transit tunnel is really horrible! The electronic sign often says “Downtown Transit Tunnel” which is rather obvious! Why it doesn’t say something like “Eastbound/Southbound Platform” is really beyond me. Do they want to help tourists and infrequent riders or not?

        It’s even worse in the Rainier Valley. It will say “Welcome to Columbia City” like the riders waiting for the train have are already at their destination. Riders waiting for a train first and foremost want to know which direction the train is going! Meanwhile, a rider has to look hard to find out which direction each platform travels in. A simple “Southbound Platform” would be great!

        Sound Transit could fix this problem TOMORROW if they wanted. I’ve pointed it out to them but it hasn’t gotten to the right people.

    2. In five years of LINK operations, King County Metro has never put any signage on either end of the stairway and elevator which goes directly to the most important stop in on LINK: the outbound Westlake stop for LINK to the airport.

      I use that stop frequently. Every single time I’m down there, I get several questions from bewildered passenger pulling wheeled luggage: “Where do we get the train to the airport? Often after making trips back up to mezzanine to try and find out.

      Of every problem in our entire transit system, this is the easiest to fix, and the most unforgivable that it’s not. Three signs each end posted mezzanine and platform. Cardboard jet plane hanging from existing sign would be perfect. Metal ones would be better.

      Contact your County Council representative, especially if they sit on the Sound Transit board. Excuses should make you mad enough to either tape hand made signs to walls or posts yourself. Be polite and compliant if someone in uniform gives you any orders. And have somebody discretely taking pics for YouTube too.

      And give Mike Lindblom time, date, and location. Also Channel 5 problem solver. This idiotic defect has gone unattended for five years. Would be surprised if it took an hour to remedy- at a time when Tunnel is closed. It’s for the system’s own good. Also the good name of everybody who should have done it Day One.

      Mark Dublin

      1. PS: Let me try this first. I’ve already got some cardboard jets, and will just masking-tape them someplace visible, safe convenient.

        But will first notify the Sound Transit Board, which includes both King Count and City of Seattle representatives, and wait decent time for response. Won’t make threats or seek to embarrass. But will report results.

        I’m not going to put anyone else in jeopardy of anything where I haven’t made the first move myself.

        Mark

    3. Fun fact: the distance from Link to the monorail is about half that of Link to the SLU streetcar. Which one is supposed to be part of the public transit network again?

  2. Thanks for the word. But if I can make it to the meeting, and if there’s a question period, I’m going to ask:

    “What is the City of Seattle, and its people, gaining from having this publicly owned utility operated for private profit? Why not let King County Metro Transit operate the Monorail, and save those profits for operating expenses alone?”

    If the answer is “To keep wages lower”, I want to hear Kshama Sawant’s first response, followed by Tom Rasmussen’s. Of course the Monorail’s fare system should be integrated into the transit system’s.

    After the first item of when the transfer is signed: the integration of the Monorail into the city, county, and regional transit system- all of which share an elevator to its south terminal.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Councilmember Sawant is merely an Alternate on this committee. If you want her to be at the meeting, you may want to give her a heads up.

    2. What is the City of Seattle, and its people, gaining from having this publicly owned utility operated for private profit?

      The City of Seattle, and its people get the greater of 2/3 of net operating income or $550,000 per year.

      1. And the other third? In other words, let’s hear why a private company can run a piece of the city’s public transportation system better than our public officials can.

        Because if they can’t, maybe it’s time to replace these officials who, after all, answer to the people they represent rather than shareholders. It’s a matter of accepting, or shrugging off, a public responsibility.

        MD

      2. It does minimize the risk to the city. If the monorail breaks down, or somehow fails to make a profit, the city still makes money. I have no problem with the contracting, I have problems with the lack of ORCA card support (and the lack of frequency).

  3. Ha. The last piece of non subsidized public transportation and you want to bring it into the perma-subsidized fold.

    It’s not really integrated with other transportation yet is often full. I ride it several times a year and it’s great.

    It pays for itself. Why break what is working?

    1. People who would use the monorail for regular transportation are avoiding it like an expensive plague. For those of us who don’t want to pay a huge surcharge to ride *our* monorail, on top of what we pay for a transit pass, yes, the monorail’s fare system is broken.

      And then there is the lack of accepting credit/debit cards. Can anyone explain that?

      The contract can be designed to ensure a profit, and even have an escape clause if the monorail somehow finds itself losing money on the pro rata fares it would get from regular transit riders, first, allowing itself to cease accepting PugetPass and UPass, and then allowing it to cease accepting ORCA transfers. But I am extremely optimistic the monorail will turn a huge profit on both.

      1. Thanks for writing another post on this issue!

        I e-mailed all 4 members on the council committee, and the more people that do that the better.

    2. It’s not really integrated with other transportation yet is often full.

      No.

      No, it’s not.

      It’s really, really, really not.

    3. You ride it several times a year and it’s full? Let me guess, you ride it during big events at the Seattle Center, the same three days a year that anybody else rides it. Talk about useless anecdotal evidence.

  4. Thanks, Chad, for the post, and RIcky, for the heads up!

    I don’t see why any sort of revenue offset would be needed for fare integration. Aren’t nearly all riders who would be using an ORCA transfer or pass on the monorail currently avoiding the monorail, and taking the bus that last mile for (from the rider’s point of view) free?

    Every new rider the monorail would gain would be revenue the monorail is currently not getting, with no new operating costs until headway is decreased. The question, then, is whether a full train of ORCA users at least pays for itself.

    The monorail would get revenue from every ORCA tapper, based on the accounting split already in place among the regular transit agencies. For PugetPass users, the price of the pass gets divided by the value of all the trips during the month, and divied out accordingly.to the agencies on which the trips were taken. For e-purse users, each chain of trips within a single transfer window gets the amount of money deducted from that card divided by the sum of the trip prices, and divied out to the agencies accordingly. There may be some nuances I glossed over, but the monorail would get revenue for every ORCA tap, albeit often at less than the full advertised price of a ticket

    If someone who has a PugetPass takes fewer trips during a month than what would add up to the pass price, each agency ridden on could actually get more than the per-trip price. This might happen with some commuters who get a free or subsidized pass from their employer.

    Since the monorail is not at capacity, why not let more Seattlieites who are avoiding the monorail because it is priced to discourage Seattleites from riding fill those seats? And why not let the monorail turn a larger profit?

    I’d actually try to match the monorail’s prices to Metro’s off-peak prices because most new riders who would take the monorail after fare integration would be transferring from downtown buses, while very few would have a reason to transfer from the streetcar. Either way, fare integration would offer an additional good new feature on the monorail: a low-income fare, which is relevant to the “Equity” aspect of this committee.

    Tourists and infrequent users would continue to pay the full-price unless they are one of the rare ones to get an ORCA card.

    Ten years ago, when the monorail operating contract was last up, there was no ORCA, and so no accounting technology to do this sort of revenue split for regular transit users. It is time to look at the transit world, as it is today, and make the monorail a relevant piece of it, and an asset to the general public which, theoretically, owns it.

    1. “Aren’t nearly all riders who would be using an ORCA transfer or pass on the monorail currently avoiding the monorail, and taking the bus that last mile for (from the rider’s point of view) free?”

      That is an assumption. It may or may not be true. As I said above, I avoided the monorail for years but now I don’t. The monorail attracts more than the usual number of foamers because it’s one-of-a-kind and historic. If you’re going to Seattle Center to spend money anyway (concert, science center, IMAX, Bumbershoot, food court, Vegfest), the monorail fare is a small add-on to the experience.

      1. “If you’re going to Seattle Center to spend money anyway (concert, science center, IMAX, Bumbershoot, food court, Vegfest), the monorail fare is a small add-on to the experience.”

        If you are going to the Seattle Center to earn money, not so much. I know of former employees who worked at the Seattle Center who walked to a distant bus stop to catch a less-frequent bus because they didn’t want to pay extra to ride the monorail. And I don’t think most of Seattle Center’s jobs are on the higher end of the pay scale.

        Fare integration would be a wonderful way to help Seattle Center employees get a better deal.

      2. You could also allow the monorail to charge fares for special events, or have the $6 cash paying customers be placed at the head of the line for access (call it a “priority boarding” fare or something to lessen the sting). So if the monorail wanted to charge for Bumbershoot, they could. In fact, you could charge a high ORCA fare and keep the cash fare the same. This is similar to what is done to the King County Metro Lakeside School buses. The base fare for those routes is $5.25.

      3. All evidence is anecdotal, and until I asked the question, I assumed all riders on the monorail were heading to the Seattle Center. But lots of folks said they would ride it to the Center or Uptown if ORCA was accepted (https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/11/26/news-roundup-traffic-violence/#comment-562075, https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/11/26/news-roundup-traffic-violence/#comment-562108, https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/11/26/news-roundup-traffic-violence/#comment-562531). Again, purely anecdotal, but three different people on a long open thread during a four day weekend of a blog that isn’t read by that many people. Imagine if you asked people who ride those buses, live in the neighborhood or work in the area.

  5. I’ve personally used it many times for non-tourist transportation, and it’s a great resource when there’s a problem with downtown surface streets (amazing what grade separation will do). I’ve also failed to use it many times when it would have otherwise benefited my travel simply because of the fare compared to an employer-paid transit pass. $2.25 isn’t much, but it’s $2.25 for transit to almost the same place that a free(ish) ride would take me.

    It drops off at a less-than-convenient location compared to the bus, but it’s frequent and fast enough to make up for the hit in walking time. And it’s usually mostly empty thanks to the frequency, which means it has the capacity to make up for lower revenue with a greater number of riders.

    1. I avoided the monoral for many years because of the extra cost, but now I figure $2.25 a few times a year is worth it for the view.

      1. Out of curiosity: Would you ride the monorail more often if it were included in your pass, and how much more often would you ride?

      2. I don’t go to Uptown often, and half the time I do I’m transferring to the 8 so the monorail is too far away. So I would use the monorail slightly more. On the other hand, if I lived Uptown I might use it all the time.

    1. Yeah, I bet there are suburban commuters who could shorten their commute with the monorail who are nevertheless avoiding it like an expensive plague. Come forth, if this applies to you, please!

      1. Already hogging too much of this posting, but here’s a non-resident answer:

        My eye doctor’s office is at Queen Anne and Boston. Between the wait at 3rd and Pine and the trollybus ride up the hill, travel time can take a half hour. Monorail ride to Seattle Center would save half that.

        Routes 3 and 4 stop a couple of minutes across Fifth from the Monorail station ramp. Another advantage: often come in on LINK. So non-stop ride to and from the Center is a rain-free elevator ride away.

        Incidentally, does the Monorail have posted schedules yet? That and some advertising should start to increase patronage pretty fast. When ORCA system is in place, public-private problem can be settled without anybody noticing, let alone protesting.

        And getting the line at full capacity will give negotiators a better idea of their subject. Christmas and New Years are a couple of weeks away. A little initiative right now might be worth more than a large amount of purchased advertising.

        Especially if Route 3 and 4 schedules are nearby- presenting the Monorail as part of the transit system already.

        Mark

  6. Chad: Comparing the Streetcar and Monorail is useful, but I’m curious why you stopped short of looking at operating cost, revenue and ridership before suggesting that ORCA riders be allowed to hop on board.
    I’m sure the current operator has looked into this, and decided the profit motive just wasn’t there to push the issue.
    Here’s a thought. Extend the monorail in a big circle with stops at Amazon, Hutch, and the soon to be abandoned Convention Station (you know, the one surrounded by new high rises).

    1. The council should and probably would look at the impact before making a decision. Not doing so would be irresponsible. They should also publish the report so we can see how much the revenue loss would be.

      1. … or, more likely, revenue gain.

        The responsible path is to grant a multi-month extension to the operating contract, and cost-out the impacts of fare integration during that time. My money says they will be pleasantly surprised, and go for it.

    2. There are loads of problems with extending the current line that we learned last time we took a monorail extension seriously.

      Currently it runs on original track with original cars. We would have to buy brand new monorail cars and install new track to extend it at all and keep current service levels. This would be no minor investment and may even require us to completely replace the existing line.

      Let’s think carefully before doing something like that. We have a short list of much better investments.

      1. Exactly. The cost of extending the monorail would be an order of magnitude higher than integrating it with ORCA. Also, it would siphon off money from upgrading the SLU streetcar, the one that’s a higher priority to Amazon than the monorail is. And Convention Place does not need a monorail. That’s even more redundant than the worst of the City Center Connector predictions.

      2. The CPS ‘snipe’ is born out of frustration of closing perfectly good transit stations in the heart of re-development in the name of transit progress. The monorail ‘wagon wheel’ route is a bigger snipe at Seattle being home to many transit oddities as a former Director of ST described our efforts of joining transit civilization.

      3. It runs mostly on original track. The curved section at Westlake had to have been remade when the new station was built. Some of it could have been moved, but the tighter curve to get it close to the building would have had to be recast.

        Which really shouldn’t be a big deal. Concrete girder castings are made all the time.

        Copper or aluminum contact rails are probably a commonly available extrusion. If not, then they should be. Eventually the contact surface will wear to the point it will need to be replaced. They’ve probably already had to do that once.

        Not that I want to see the cart before the horse. Make it a useful piece of transportation first, then see if demand warrants an extension.

  7. I started the monorail discussion last Wednesday (https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/11/26/news-roundup-traffic-violence/#comment-562067) and decided to write a Page 2 post about it (as I said I would). I was hoping to get that written over the weekend, but didn’t. I should have checked here, because this post says much the same thing.

    There are two major differences in my suggestion:

    1) I ask for a delay in the agreement, rather than an amendment. I think it is makes sense to simply continue to go with SMS (the current operator) for another year, while these issues are resolved.

    2) I ask for increased frequency on the monorail. Ten minutes is pretty good, but there is no technical reason why we can’t do better.

    Here is the post: https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/12/01/please-write-the-city-council-about-the-monorail/

    1. Re #2: Isn’t there one section of the tracks that’s effectively single-tracked, because some maintenance work left the two tracks too close together for the vehicles to pass by eachother? That might be a frequency limiter.

      1. Quite possible. That is why I think they should investigate the issue. I get the three minute issue from Chad, presumably the same Chad that wrote this post (although I can’t be sure). The comment thread about the monorail is very long. It actually split into two threads. I first started asking questions about the monorail here: https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/11/26/news-roundup-traffic-violence/#comment-562067

        That mainly lead into a discussion of the ORCA support, as well as the information about the meeting coming up. It is a very long thread, but there is some good stuff in there. Chad mentioned the 3 minute potential frequency here (https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/11/26/news-roundup-traffic-violence/#comment-562226), and some of the issues with it here (https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/11/26/news-roundup-traffic-violence/#comment-562763).

        The comment thread about the monorail restarted here: https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/11/26/news-roundup-traffic-violence/#comment-563080
        This was a smaller thread, but pretty much summarizes the issues with the ORCA card.

      2. I wasn’t clear in this comment, but I was clear on the Page 2 post — there may be a technical reason why five minute frequencies won’t work. It doesn’t make any sense to try and amend the agreement with such a request until we know the technical details.

    2. Does anyone know if the Monorail’s current frequency is dictated by contract, or is the private operator free to adjust headway to match demand?

  8. Interesting, I forgot about that. Still, it shows that if operated properly, it can run more often than every ten minutes. From what I gathered from the article, it looks like the only bad section is close to the Westlake terminal. If the trains both leave terminals at the same time (one from the Seattle Center and one from Westlake) I would think they would be just fine. That really shouldn’t be too hard to coordinate.

    I also wonder how much it would cost to eliminate this problem (which didn’t exist when they first built the monorail).

    1. A higher fare up to $6 would only apply to cash payers. Fares paid via Orca e-purse should be similar to other transit modes.

      1. Not necessarily. They should be negotiated and possibly a different fare could be charged to allow some ORCA credit. Really it’s up to how much the city and the operator want to compromise. If the operator insists on revenue neutrality then charging a $4 or $5 ORCA fare may be the only way to go. I doubt you could reduce parallel bus service just because the monorail is an alternative.

      2. The current operator is negotiating the renewal of their contract. They would have to be comfortable operating under these new parameters or the City can do something different. I’m not wedded to having the current operator continue.

      3. This higher cash fare premium for tourist valie plus monthly pass acceptance seems to work for the Portland Arrial Tram.

      4. Calwatch is wrong on literally every point.

        The fare needs to be the same. That is what makes this proposed change a “system integration”. Without that, it’s just a premium service that doesn’t go very far and that no non-tourists will ride, just like today.

        And yes, people will use it as part of a multi-modal trip if it becomes a reasonable option to do so, alleviating some of the short-haul pressure that makes the slower buses below even slower. That’s the whole freaking point of this exercise.

        San Francisco Muni passholders — monthly, weekly, even short-term — have unlimited access to the cable cars, which are icons with a tourist lure three orders of magnitude beyond our dinky little beam-train. And you know what? The SF locals don’t hop them superfluously, but they do hop them in situations where they will actually prove useful.

        Calwatch’s suggestion is like the useless $14 ORCA day pass: Why are people in this city so obsessed with “compromises” that defeat the entire purpose of the discussion?

      5. The cable cars have been part of the transit system since the beginning; they were the transit system in the San Francisco Municipal Railway before these newfangled buses came along. The monorail was originally a tourist attraction and has been positioned as that ever since (except for the small number of commuters who have a monorail pass and park in the Mercer lot or walk from Uptown). So it’s really a change in the monorail’s direction, and that does require the city adopting its new mission and possibly subsidizing it (as they do the streetcar) and changing the operation contact’s terms.

        The operator cannot “insist” on revenue neutrality because it’s a contract renewal. The operator can either bid for it and negotiate a reasonable profit, or walk away and let someone else operate it.

      6. The operator then also can walk away and good luck to the City of Seattle finding another operator in the meantime, at least without a ransom payment. It is in the best interests to work with the existing operator rather than find another contractor, recruit new employees, etc. – especially for gadgetbahn technology like the monorail (different than, say, a bus operations contract).

      7. At this point, the SF cable cars are a gadgetbahn as well.

        A publicly run, occasionally convenient, fully transit-pass-accessible, still plenty-profitable gadgetbahn.

  9. Is there any evidence that anyone outside of this blog is seriously proposing anything other than the indefinite continuation of the status quo?

  10. I’d love to see the monorail part of ORCA but so long as we don’t turn the only profitable transit line in North America into a line operated at a loss. We should be studying this monorail operation and how It manages to be profitable and how we can make other lines profitable. I strongly believe if we could make more transit operations profitable it would benefit transit riders and create a more transit oriented world. When you can make money with additional service that’s a good thing for everyone, as opposed to now where each additional bus is a greater loss and subsidy. Check out All Aboard Florida too for what profitable transit can be.

    1. I think at a minimum orca should be accepted as a separate agency with no transfers. Transfers would be nice but making it no transfers means they keep most of the money. That’s what the ferry system does. The take your orca but they don’t take transfers or regional passes (they DO issue their own passes and multi ride products both of which can be loaded on orca (

    2. I’m not sure that the profitability of the monorail has bearing on designing other transit modes. In particular, I suspect the monorail is principally profitable because it is tourist attraction. But this attraction aspect of the monorail would be impossible to scale because it relies on its rarity. The monorail is fun because it is unique and different. But if monorails went all over the city, the fun of any particular monorail segment would be greatly diluted. It also helps that its capital costs are paid for and it serves two very dense (and touristy) areas, something that only a few other corridors in Seattle could replicate.

      This post explains this idea in more detail:
      http://www.humantransit.org/2009/04/the-disneyland-theory-of-transit.html

      1. What I think should be noted and replicated is that the monorail is grade separated, fast and uses little labor. Its essentially 1 single vehicle that goes fast between two major destinations and therefore carries hundreds of people an hour with 1 operator, 2 ticket booth attendances and a few maintenance people at any given time. Its so fast it can use a single vehicle on 10 minute headways to cover a distance that would require multiple buses inching along in traffic to maintain the same headways. And of course the faster you go the more attractive it is riders thereby inducing demand. So I think there is more to see with the monorail operation than just a 1960s novelty relic.

      2. Yes those are all accurate points about the monorail and its profitability. I did straw-man you a bit. However, I still think the monorail would be far less profitable if it wasn’t a tourist trap and less profitable still if the capital costs were still being paid.

    3. Profitibility was tried a century ago and it failed. Many countries would go back to it if they could make it work, but working means it has to be comprehensive and frequent and full-time and charge an affordable fare. The purpose of intra-city transit is to enable people to get around so the city can function, not to raise a profit. “Profitable” transit is like toll roads or BoltBus: it tries to skim the cream of the crop on the most popular roads in the most affluent areas, and ignore all other areas which would turn the profit into a loss. That’s the equivalent of putting transit on I-5, I-90, 405, 520 and 167 and saying, if you’re not within walking distance of those, your transit needs don’t matter.

      Just for fun I looked up All Aboard Florida. “High speed rail in Florida will soon be a reality! All Aboard Florida will provide residents of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando a fast, affordable, and environmentally sustainable method of transportation.” Even if that model works between Florida cities, that doesn’t mean it will work within cities.

      1. Bluntly, public transportation can’t be profitable as long as paved roads are heavily subsidized for the benefit of automobiles. If every road were tolled to recover its maintenance costs, even streetcars would be profitable agian.

        But we’re not going back to the era of tolled city streets, not any time soon.

  11. I definitely agree in principle, but my one concern would be how high they would raise the cash fare. If you kill the tourist ridership (which is currently almost all of the ridership) to slightly increase the commuter ridership, it’s not really worth it. People may pay $6 to ride the Cable Car in San Francisco, but the Monorail isn’t the cable car.

    1. There is no reason why they should raise the cash fare. In all likelihood, they would make money off of the deal. There are very few people who ride the monorail and also use ORCA. Even then, SMS would be compensated, just not as much as a full fare. That is only for transfers and monthly card users. For everyone else, SMS would get the same amount of money. For example, a family that wants to check out the lights at Westlake and the Seattle Center might drive to the Seattle Center, walk around a bit, take the monorail to Westlake, have lunch, and ride back. SMS would get exactly the same amount of money (full fare) whether they pay cash or use ORCA. These are the typical users right now. Folks like Zach below, simply don’t use the monorail. Those are the new users, and they will mean increased revenue for SMS.

      In other words, if a coffee shop suddenly starts to sell tea, they don’t raise their coffee prices. In most cases, those are new customers. Maybe they make less off of tea, but it doesn’t matter. One in a hundred coffee drinkers will now order tea, but for the most part, each new tea drinker was someone who never ordered anything before.

      1. Also, if they do study this, and SMS drives a hard bargain, there is plenty of room for negotiation. Seattle makes money off of the current deal, and there is plenty of wiggle room. There aren’t many private companies that operate a deal like this, which explains why they are so conservative (and don’t accept credit cards, for example). If they make a big profit, they have to give two thirds of that to the city. Just about any company will operate in a very conservative manner given that restriction. We could easily loosen that rule for ORCA payments (e. g. allow them to keep half the ORCA receipts) and still make money for the city.

  12. So what happened at the meeting this morning? And did anyone else get a response to their emails? (I haven’t, at least not yet.)

      1. For those that don’t have access to the article:

        Members of the Seattle City Council said Tuesday they want to integrate the Monorail fare payment with other public transportation in the Puget Sound area, as a condition of signing a new 10-year agreement this month with private Seattle Monorail Services.

        Godden said members of the public contacted the council in the 24 hours before Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting to advocate for ORCA integration.

      2. And also:

        “The City Council’s discussion Tuesday didn’t resolve the crucial question of what to charge people who continue onto the monorail right after using other transit.” I’m not surprised it’s not being resolved. I’m glad it’s been raised as a prominent question, but I’m disappointed at the Times’ framing of it as primarily a question of how little revenue the monorail will get, rather than making it an equal mode choice for riders.

      3. @William — I was disappointed in the Times as well, but for a slightly different reason. There is a very good possibility that this increase revenue for the private company. Second, they seemed to imply that the company would get nothing if ORCA users “use a transfer” or have a monthly pass. This isn’t true, as described here: https://seattletransitblog.com/2011/06/20/how-orca-fare-revenue-is-apportioned/

        They would get less, but (presumably) increase ridership. In that sense, it is like a restaurant accepting credit cards. My guess, and the guess of a lot of people is that it would come out positive for them (they will make money).

    1. Excellent news. I was afraid for awhile that we were just blowing steam. I am thrilled to see real momentum behind this, with support from real councilmembers.

      Let’s hope it actually happens.

      1. I agree. When this whole conversation started, I was just asking questions, but once those questions got answered, I was very hopeful. I’ve been on this blog a few years and most of the time we are simply arguing amongst ourselves, and a lot of great ideas get ignored. It is very hard to make a lot of these changes (e. g. change the bus routes). But in this case, with the change being so simple, and the process (once understood) being straightforward, I figured we had a good chance and I got really excited. The city council doesn’t get that many situations like this — a lot of emails about a subject no one else is talking about. When they do, and when the request is reasonable, they respond.

        I also want to mention Seattle Subway. After this and the Page 2 articles were written, I emailed them and suggested they contact their email list. They agreed, and did (they may have been on it before I emailed them). I’m sure that helped a lot. This blog is read by a lot of people, but email is faster, and Seattle Subway has a pretty big email list of people.

        This isn’t a done deal, yet, but the more the city (and SMS) looks at it, the more likely they will like this idea. They may drive a hard bargain (as a private company is likely to do) but at worst, the city could simply increase the amount of money that SMS gets, while still making a profit. For example, they could promise SMS 2/3 of the profit from ORCA use, while keeping the rest of the agreement the same. That could be a huge windfall for SMS, but still a good deal for Seattle.

    2. Great news! I came back here to see if there were any updates, and I’m happy to see that things went well.

  13. I only take the monorail on special occasions. If they accepted ORCA, I would use it A LOT MORE. I’m sure there are many others who feel the same way. It is so much quicker then riding a bus from downtown to Seattle Center. Seattle Center has some great food options too (IMO, Better than Westlake).
    As of right now, the extra time it takes on a bus (plus the walking distance) is a better value than paying two separate fares. I have always thought that the monorail should be included in the fares/operations of KCM.

    1. Right. You are not alone. That is probably the most surprising thing about this topic. I figured when I started asking about it, there would be a lot of people (like me) saying that lack of ORCA support is stupid. But I never imagined the number of people who would like to take the monorail, but don’t, because of the fare structure. Not only people like you, who want to go the center, but people who want to get to the surrounding neighborhoods. When I looked again at the bus routes, a lot of it made sense. If you are at Westlake Station, you have to walk a few blocks to take a bus. You might as well walk those blocks on the other end. For a lot of fairly common trips, the monorail is significantly faster than a bus.

      One of the great things about ORCA card support, is that it can be a completely different agency (as it is now). It really doesn’t need to be integrated with KCM. The agency (SMS) can simply operate like every other transit agency that supports ORCA (Sound Transit, Metro Transit, etc.) and compensated accordingly (https://seattletransitblog.com/2011/06/20/how-orca-fare-revenue-is-apportioned/).

      1. Maybe fare integration will even lead to an influx of pedestrians walking across the vast expanses of “open space” in the Seattle Center that are a ghost town most of the time today.

      2. @ d.p.

        Perhaps we could get a few extra street food vendors to supply folks walking from a fast transit node to the surrounding offices/apartments.

        Seattle Center may be a fairly empty plaza, but its surrounded by quickly growing LQA/Uptown. Skyscrapers are popping up like daises around it. If we could also manage to build the Seattle Center/SLU/Capitol Hill gondola some folks often talk about on this blog it would be an even more busy plaza.

        At a minimum though the cheap transfer to/from the monorail makes a ton of sense.

  14. Can anyone tell me what the City Council’s timeline on this decision process might look like? The Transit Riders Union may be interested taking up this issue, if there’s enough time to start a campaign. It seems like a no-brainer: increased access for transit riders at apparently little or no cost to the City or the monorail authority.

    1. I think the Rasmussen amendment is being offered to the complete Council within a week.

      Hopefully it will include some sort of proposed timeline. Ideally concrete rather than squishy and delay-prone (or renege-able). But I can’t imagine the details being worked out before the Council approves the long-term SMS concession agreement.

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