Just a week ago, commenter Ricky alerted STB readers to the fact that the 10-year contract for operating the Seattle Center Monorail was coming up for renewal, and being discussed in the City Council’s Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries, and Gender Pay Equity Committee this past Tuesday. Chad recognized the opportunity, and called upon the city council to integrate the monorail into the ORCA fare system, as part of the contract renewal.
City councilmembers found a barrage of emails waiting for them Monday morning, and swung into action. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, one of the committee members, had a lot of questions regarding the future of the monorail for Seattle Center staff at the meeting, including plans for a potential expansion of access to the south terminal across 5th Ave to street level.
On the topic of ORCA integration, Rasmussen said he wanted a plan by the end of the first quarter of 2015 on how such integration can occur, and will introduce amendments to the operating contract to make that happen. He added, “We need to have certainty that [the monorail] will be integrated into the ORCA system.”
Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who is not on the committee, made an appearance to ask some pointed questions relating to ORCA integration. He explained the transfer surcharge problem, in which someone who just spent $2.50 on a bus downtown is probably going to choose a free bus transfer to get to the Seattle Center over a ride on the monorail that costs another $2.25.
Committee Chairwoman Jean Godden issued a statement later in the day:
At today’s Committee meeting we took a vote on the legislation authorizing a concession agreement with Seattle Monorail Services. As congestion increases, I support further exploration of how we can better integrate our transit system. I’m intrigued by the amendments Rasmussen is working on related to fare box integration.
Councilmember Rasmussen, who chairs the Council Transportation Committee, had more to say by email later when asked for more specifics:
I would like the ORCA card to be as convenient and universal as possible for the various public transportation modes which includes the Monorail. What I am asking the Seattle Center and the Monorail operator to come back with a plan for the use of the card on the Monorail by the end of the first quarter 2015. What I would expect is that they assess and provide the City Council Transportation Committee with information on what it would take financially and technically for the Monorail to be able to accept the ORCA card in the same manner that all other transit agencies do.
When asked if he would require the monorail to accept PugetPass, UPass, and inter-agency transfers, Rasmussen responded,
I would like the Orca card to be as useful and convenient as possible. The purpose of the three month study period is to understand the challenges and costs of the various options you stated before we give the go ahead. I am working for an integrated, seamless fare system for the region regardless of the public transit agency that is used.
Rasmussen’s proposed amendments to the contract are expected to be ready for the December 15 full council meeting.
Thomas Ditty, General Manager of Seattle Monorail Services, graciously agreed to an interview.
Ditty was not favorable to a contract extension, after an expensive 15-month bid process in which SMS beat out two competitors, due to the possibility that SMS might then not get the contract at the end of that process. But he said, “We will do whatever the City wants.” He called comparisons to other transit systems “apples to pears.” “The monorail is the only transit system in Seattle that makes a profit.” He listed Seattle Center funds that receive money generated from the monorail’s profit.
Ditty gave the number of monthly pass purchasers as roughly 150, annual ridership of over 2 million, annual revenue over $4m, and practical minimum headway of 5-6 minutes.