The Seattle City Council voted Monday to take the first steps toward integrating the monorail into the ORCA pod, and annexing the unincorporated North Highline area, including parts of White Center and Boulevard Park.

Unincorporated North Highline
Unincorporated North Highline

The City of Seattle had previously deferred to the City of Burien on annexing the North Highline area, but residents voted down Burien annexation in 2012. The Seattle City Council was enticed to action by a state sales tax incentive program worth $5 million for 10 years, that would expire if the City didn’t take an initial action of intent by the end of the year. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen described the resolution as a “placeholder”, in case the City decided to move forward with annexation. The council passed the resolution 8-0. Annexation doesn’t quite solve the Route 120 problem but it gets us closer. The earliest White Center could vote on being annexed by Seattle would be 2016. White Center Now has more in-depth coverage.

Thom Ditty, General Manager, Seattle Monorail Services
Thom Ditty,
General Manager,
Seattle Monorail Services
The council also passed the bill containing the substitute version of the monorail concession contract, which was made available Friday, between the City and Seattle Monorail Services, 8-0. Thom Ditty, General Manager of Seattle Monorail Services, proclaimed that the new contract “puts the City in the driver’s seat on the ORCA pass.” Councilmember O’Brien asked the resolution sponsor, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, whether it was his intent to include transfers and passes in the ORCA integration. Rasmussen repeated his previous refrain that he wanted the fare system to be “as convenient as possible, in all possible ways”.

Rasmussen explained why the study called for in the resolution wouldn’t be due until the end of the second quarter in 2015: The monorail needs a sponsor among the seven member agencies of the ORCA Joint Board, and the support of the rest, in order to participate as an affiliate.

The section added Friday in the contract contains a fallback plan in case the study shows fare integration to be a money loser for Seattle Monorail Services: The City and SMS can negotiate mitigation, and if negotiations fail that terminates the contract.

In a final charm offensive, the SMS team had in tow Kelly Pearson, Chief Development Officer of Wellspring Family Services, who lauded SMS for being Wellspring’s charitable partner for the past two years, increasing Give Big Campaign donations by 45%.

Regarding the last-minute effort to get ORCA into the contract, Ditty said, “I’m glad it happened. I expect both ridership and revenue will increase.”

24 Replies to “City Council Steps Toward Monorail ORCA Integration, White Center Annexation”

  1. I think this is good news on both fronts. The monorail thing just makes sense, and is exactly what we predicted. I think the White Center annexation is good for everyone as well. I think it will be good for White Center because they will have better services. I think it will be good for the city as well, just to have more people.

      1. Absolutely. It will also make it possible for SDOT to spend its Prop 1 TBD money on routes that benefit West/South Seattle, in particular the 120.

      2. Prop 1 expires in 2020, so White Center would only get a couple years of service before then.

        After 2020, well, we could renew the TBD in a substantially similar form. But North Link will open a few months after that (or maybe before, if the funds dry up as slowly as they accumulate). That should free up service hours and also change the demand profile (to feeders and crosstown routes, which are generally shorter and have less traffic bottlenecks). Or we could have some different kind of TBD either citywide or countywide, which White Center could participate in.

    1. Looking at that map, I’m quite startled that those funny little wedges next to the river and the triangle of railroad/highway land haven’t been annexed by anyone. The Tukwila-Seattle border up there is also *whacked out*, slicing through the middle of the King County Airport; there must be a history behind that.

      1. The face of the ORCA card definitely needs a redesign. It looks like (and probably is) a generic design from the manufacturer. I think a new website should still be top priority though. The current site was embarrassing enough at launch.

    1. Poll time. How many people will pay $5 for the new ORCA design and more logos? I won’t, until my card dies or gets lost.

      By the way, there’s a little-noticed time bomb in that ORCA cards have a finite lifespan (I thought it was four years but mine must be around eight years old) and ST charges $5 to replace the card and transfer the balance. Expect another round of card-fee protests when the first wave of replacements occurs.

      1. Really? That’s hideous. The renewal wave would be a perfect time to do away with the fee once and for all.

        I certainly[*] wouldn’t pay just to get the new logo, and my suggestion for a design contest was half-facetious, but a new design + no fee could really spur a second wave of adoption.

        [*] if it’s two otters holding hands, maybe; maybe.

  2. “in case the study shows fare integration to be a money loser for Seattle Monorail Services”

    Then substitute “Proof of Payment” in the DSTT, instead of bus fare-box collection” .

    And then ask yourself, and your council: “For both the above, what about the cost of lost time and convenience to passengers caused by failure to let ORCA deliver on the promise in its title: One Regional Card for All?”

    If Seattle Monorail System answers: “Profits come first!”, invite them to terminate the contract and let either Seattle or Sound Transit take over. Considering Tacoma LINK, a measure for which ST has no grounds to object. The Monorail also delivers passengers to ST, at Westlake.

    If the city answers: “Our profits outweigh passengers’ convenience and the promise of an integrated fare system”-publicly call them on it, and those who are their constituents, remind them impolitely of next election.

    Regardless of their own political priorities, enough publicity on a transit issue will weigh in their ORCA calculations as something they’ll have to answer for. Fare integration has been an explicit promise since at least Sound Transit’s founding.

    And most important, this measure will at least help with the greater issue: Converting the monorail from a carnival ride to a grown-up segment of our whole transit system.

    Mark Dublin

    1. It would not be reasonable to ask Seattle Monorail Services to operate at a loss. It is a private LLC.

      I think yesterday’s 8-0 vote speaks for itself regarding the City’s intentions.

      Washington State Ferries accepts ORCA, but not transfers or passes. I think WSF has missed the point of ORCA, but then, people have always taken a back seat to cars on WSF, especially on fare policy. Gouging pedestrians and bicyclists while there is room for plenty more pedestrians and bicyclists, but keeping fares cheap for cars, while that space gets used up, makes no sense. Incentivizing people to walk on instead of bringing their cars ought to be an urgent priority for WSF.

      I’ll be happy to continue commiserating on DSTT operations on a post where it is not OT.

    2. It’s the same issue as why the transit agencies don’t have a common fare. None of them have extra money, so the ones who lower their fare would have to take it out of service hours. That’s probably why the ferries don’t take transfers or passes. It’s not like the state gave them a budget for that.

      1. That doesn’t explain why the ferries don’t charge market-clearing fares for cars (similar to variable tolls on highways). Yes, some have peak surcharges, but some cars still have to wait for the next ferry.

        The differences in bus fares have more to do with some smaller agencies not having the political will to raise fares, even though they can’t figure out a better way to fund adequate service.

  3. Just a footnote on the remaining areas the City of Seattle could annex:

    Those two smaller parcels at the east end of the white area in the North Highline map are not part of the area to be annexed, but they remain unincorporated. Both are in the South Park neighborhood.

    Unincorporated West Hill Unincorporated West Hill

    West Hill (Skyway) also remains unincorporated. A vote to be annexed by the City of Renton failed in 2012. A history of West Hill annexation efforts can be found here.

    1. I thought much of the reason no one wanted the south part parcels was because of the bridge fees, but that has since been taken care of.

  4. This is great to hear about the monorail! Accepting Puget Passes is the key to convenient and useful integration of ORCA cards to the monorail. Accepting e-purse only is a minor, although still appreciated, step towards fare integration. I hope that we can get Puget Pass acceptance, definitely within 10 years.

    The Orca study needs to have SDOT or King County Metro contributions and final review, to ensure that the relevant transit experience is incorporated. The study should include a survey of current monorail riders as to whether they have ORCA cards.

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  6. if we annex an area with 8K folks in it it means someone could sue the city of seattle for no longer having districts that meet the one person one vote test; the remedy would be redistricting before the next census. if west seattle district one grows by 8K, all the lines might have to jiggle a little bit. maybe mcginn could then find himself in district 5, just saying! ;)

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