Wanted: A Pioneer Square Bus Layover Facility

STB_PioneerSqLayover
Diagram by Oran

In the wonky discourse around Seattle transit, there are plenty of good ideas floating around for small transit projects that could incrementally improve service quality, and there are also some good ideas and lots of enthusiasm for large projects that would radically improve transit in the city, but there are very few which lay out how an agency could spend, say, ten million dollars, to save more than a million dollars a year, indefinitely into the future. With sales tax revenues slowly recovering, and Seattle newly in the business of large-scale service purchases, I’d like to propose — or, rather, revive — just such a concept.

Here’s the problem: when designing routes that connect north Seattle to downtown, Metro planners have to do something with the bus at the south end of downtown. Their options are:

  • Continue on as a different route to the south (“through-route”). This is the option Metro historically favored: it’s the cheapest, and because much of Metro’s network, until recently, revolved around infrequent routes, it provided crosstown connections that would otherwise have been unwieldy. The price of through-routing, though, is unreliability, and which has only become worse as the city center has grown impressively in both jobs and congestion. Examples of through-routes include RapidRide C and D, and Routes 5 and 21 — and most riders of both pairs of routes would benefit dramatically from them being split.
  • Deadhead the bus back to a base in SoDo. This is the option of last resort: it costs about fifteen minutes of service time per round trip to get a bus back and forth between Pioneer Square and SoDo, and riders get no benefit for that time and diesel. A base deadhead is more reliable than a through-route, but buses are still at the mercy of stadium and I-90 traffic. As far as I know, the only Metro route that does this is Route 40.
  • Lay over on-street in Pioneer Square. The operationally preferable choice is to park the bus as close as possible to the stop where it goes out of service. The disadvantage of this approach is most apparent to the neighborhood: buses consume much of the curb space in Pioneer Square, which merchants and residents would much prefer to see used for car parking, parklets, bikeshare — basically anything other than out-of-service buses. The available street space for on-street layover appears to be exhausted, and in fact the Pioneer Square neighborhood association has been effective at lobbying SDOT and Metro to remove some layover spots. RapidRide E is the most prominent route that still lays over near this area.

There’s a solution, although I can’t take credit for it — it’s been knocking around among Seattle transit professionals for years, and even made it into Metro’s capital plan, before being axed in the doldrums of the recession. A block of land, today mostly occupied by surface parking lots, at the boundary of Pioneer Square and the International District, sits atop the tunnel portal at the north of International District Station. To protect the tunnel and station structures, it’s restricted from high-rise development — only six-story, mostly-wood-frame structures are possible, like the Hirabyashi Place affordable housing development underway on the southwest corner of the block.

Here’s the idea: buy the eastern half of this block, and build a combined bus layover and affordable housing facility on it. The transit functionality of this building would occupy only the ground floor — it would be like a one-story, covered parking lot, but with numbered lanes for spaces, and possibly trolleybus overhead mounted to the roof. Upper floors of the building would be affordable housing, presumably built in partnership with Seattle Housing Authority. All-day routes that deadhead to SoDo, or lay over in Pioneer Square, would move into this facility — RapidRide E, Routes 40 and 70, possibly Route 16, and a split RapidRide D being the obvious initial candidates.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Wanted: A Pioneer Square Bus Layover Facility”

Winter Service Reductions Start Next Week

UW winterWith University of Washington classes out next week, be prepared for service reductions on several King County Metro routes, including routes 31, 32, 48, 65, 67, 68, 75, 167, 197, 271, 277, 372, and 373. Metro will be running the “No UW” schedule (or as I will call it in the chart, “Less UW”) on weekdays from December 15, 2014 to January 2, 2015. Service levels will drop further, affecting many more routes, December 24 – January 2.

The full list of holiday service levels is below the fold. Continue reading “Winter Service Reductions Start Next Week”

Monorail Contract Up for Passage Monday

Fill 'er Up
Fill ‘er Up
As planned, the full Seattle City Council will be voting Monday on the 10-year contract for Seattle Monorail Services to operate the Seattle Center Monorail.

The council meeting starts at 2 pm. The contract is item 53 on the agenda.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, planned to present amendments to bring about the monorail’s integration into the ORCA system, after three months of feasibility study. At this time, the amendments are not yet publicly available, but we will post them here when they do become available.

The Blog has covered this issue here, here, and here.

We have received a number of questions regarding how ORCA revenue is distributed among the transit agencies. Oran’s primer on that process is here.

    Update:

A substitute proposal is now available to the public.

The substitute bill contains a new Section 4:

Section 4. The Director shall deliver to the Mayor’s Office and the Seattle City Council an analysis of and possible proposal for utilizing the One Regional Card for All (“ORCA”) card as a method of fare payment on the Seattle Monorail before the end of the second quarter of 2015.

On page 27 of the substitute proposal, new verbage is added to the proposed contract language under XI.F.3. (Fare Collection):

The City may require the Concessionaire to utilize the One Regional Card for All (“ORCA”) smart card as a fare payment method. If the ORCA card is utilized and use of the card is found to have a material and adverse operating and/or financial impact, the Concessionaire and the City will enter into good faith negotiations to reasonably address the impact by amendment of the Agreement. In the event the City and the Concessionaire do not reach agreement, the Concessionaire may terminate this Agreement by providing written notice thereof to the City with the effective date of the termination being no less than one (1) year after the written notice. The Minimum Fee for the period from January 1 of the calendar year in which the notice of termination is given to the date of the written notice of termination shall be prorated based on the prior calendar year’s ridership for the same time period. The Minimum Fee shall not be in effect as of the date of written notice of termination.

October 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – What’s the Ugly?

Oct14WeekdayMovingAvgChangeThe bad news: October saw the lowest percentage growth in Link ridership in the past year and half. The good news is that still translates to 6.8% growth with an additional 2,079 weekday boardings compared to October 2013.

Octobers’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 32,502 / 22,138 / 19,761, growth of 6.8%, 5.1%, and -11.0% respectively compared to October 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 15.9% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased 0.6%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.4%. System wide weekday boardings were up 7.9%, and all boardings were up 7.0%. The complete October Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the fold. Continue reading “October 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – What’s the Ugly?”

ORCA Revenue Per Boarding

ORCA on the monorail:  a winning bet?
ORCA on the monorail: a winning bet?
With the City getting ready to study the costs and benefits of integrating the Seattle Center Monorail into the ORCA fare and pass system used by eight local transit agencies, a look at some ORCA use and revenue data is in order.

The 3rd Quarter ORCA Joint Board Program Management Report breaks down revenue and boardings by pass type, for the months of July through September. For purposes of math, I simply took the summations for the three months.

Product Type Revenue Boardings Revenue Per Boarding
Business Passport $23,434,997 11,211,971 $2.09
Regional Pass $11,649,456 7,606,026 $1.53
Agency Product $1,791,258 962,798 $1.86
E-Purse $13,740,147 7,571,423 $1.81
Total $50,615,858 27,352,218 $1.85

The monorail has annual ridership a little over 2,000,000 and revenue a little over $4,000,000, coming out to $2 revenue per ride.

What would happen if the monorail started accepting ORCA, inter-agency transfers, and passes?

If every monorail rider were to start using ORCA (just for the sake of worst-case argument), the monorail got the typical distribution of $1.85 per ORCA tap, and zero new monorail riders came forth, the monorail would lose $300,000 of its annual profit. If just 163,000 new annual boardings end up being added, the monorail would break even on ORCAzation. If ridership doubled, the monorail’s profit would increase by $3,400,000.

Let’s assume something even worse: Every monorail rider becomes an ORCA regional pass user, and the monorail only gets $1.53 distributed to it for each ORCA tap. If zero new riders came forth, the monorail’s profit would go down by $940,000 annually. The break-even point would be 615,000 new riders. If ridership doubled, the monorail would pull in $2,120,000 of new annual revenue.

It is hard to envision a scenario coming to pass in which the monorail doesn’t make a windfall off of ORCAzation.

News Roundup: That Sinking Feeling

This is an open thread.

SDOT Proposes 9th Ave Bus Lane

9th Ave Bus Lane Map
9th Ave Bus Lane Map

Just under a year ago, I wrote a post suggesting that SDOT install a southbound bus lane or queue jump, on 9th Ave just north of Mercer, to help keep Metro Route 40 out of the press of car traffic headed to Mercer and I-5. I’m very happy to report that SDOT is now planning to do something very like what I proposed (minus the bike facility I had suggested), as shown on the map above:

The Seattle Department of Transportation is planning to install the following changes on 9th Avenue between Westlake Avenue and Roy Street:

  • Install a new southbound bus lane on 9th Avenue between Westlake Avenue and Roy Street;
  • Restrict on-street parking on the west side of 9th Avenue N between Westlake Avenue and Roy Street between 6 -9 am and 3-7 pm;
  • Remove restriction to on-street parking on the east side of 9th Avenue N between Westlake Avenue and Roy Street.

This project is part of the City’s efforts to relieve South Lake Union traffic chokepoints. General purpose traffic currently stacks up during both peaks, creating several minutes of delays to Metro Route 40, the primary bus line between Fremont, Ballard, and South Lake Union.

Changes on 9th Avenue N are scheduled to be installed before the end of December, weather permitting.

Assuming this bus lane is adequately enforced, this change should save Route 40 riders at least one signal cycle crossing Mercer in the peak periods. Riding the 40 southbound in the PM peak, I find it mortifying to be stuck on a motionless bus, while half a dozen cars are parked just to the right, squandering precious street space. Props to SDOT for getting this done; let’s have more like this.

Dembowski on Governance Reform


On Dec. 3 the King County Council was discussing its 2015 legislative agenda when District 1 representative Rod Dembowski brought up a harrowing prospect (a scrollable video is here) . Citing the “historic and continuing lack of representation on the Sound Transit Board of Directors” for the North King cities he represents, Mr. Dembowski stated “I know that there will be probably action with respect to Governance Reform in the legislature ties to proposals for Sound Transit 3.” He wanted to know the County’s official position on this issue.

County Director of Govt. Relations Rachel Smith, speaking on behalf of the Executive, answered that “The Executive supports the current construct of the Sound Transit Board and would not be in favor of any governance changes.”

Mr. Dembowski didn’t take that as an answer, continuing to implore the Council to consider its response.

In a later email to me, Dembowski clarified he “did not ‘support governance reform’ at Sound Transit,” saying he was merely “aimed at being ready to respond when those issues arise in Olympia,” and ” that elected leaders in the north will look at ‘governance reform’ if they continue to be left out.” He declined an opportunity to name specific city officials or legislators.

Rail advocates have usually looked at governance reform, rightly, as a way to fundamentally redirect a Sound Transit Board that most advocates believe is doing basically the right thing. The precise proposals vary — from incorporating roads into the mission, to a directly elected board — but at STB we’ve argued against it here, here, here, here, here, and perhaps most notably here. If finding a spot for the Mayor of Shoreline, for example, heads this off, that would be worthwhile.

As PubliCola points out, with four of Dembowski’s Council colleagues on the board, and Dow Constantine controlling 10 of the 18 appointments to the board, this idea will not find fertile ground at the County.

Action Alert: Speed Up RapidRide C Tonight

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

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition will engage with SDOT Engineer Jonathan Dong over the plan to straighten RapidRide C’s path through the Alaska Junction and therefore speed it up.

Neighborhood House Highpoint Center

6400 Sylvan Way SW, Seattle, Washington 98126

6:30-8:30pm

Bruce reported on this proposal last month, and the comment thread revealed a fair amount of resistance to this simple idea. Anyhow, if you are a C rider who would like the trip to be faster, you must help win many of these micro-battles. I encourage you to interact with your neighbors and express your opinion.

Will Route 120 Be the First Test of Prop 1’s 80/20 Rule?

King County Metro 120 and 132 in Belltown
King County Metro 120 and 132 in Belltown

In the wake of Prop 1’s passage, the City of Seattle finds itself in a position to purchase more bus service. For some bus routes, however, that may be easier said than done.

Consider the 120. Serving White Center and West Seattle along Delridge Way, it claims 7,000 riders in a largely transit-dependent part of town and serves one of 15 designated bus priority corridors in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan. As one of the city’s 10 busiest routes, it would be a good candidate for RapidRide treatment someday.

Despite its popularity, the 120 drops to half-hourly service in the evenings and on Sundays, and would probably benefit from the supplemental funding enabled by the recently-passed Prop. 1. However, since more than 20% of the route’s stops are outside the city limits, the 120 is technically ineligible for Prop. 1 money. This has caused some legitimate concern from West Seattle residents:

If the City of Seattle would like to improve service on the 120, they have a few options:

  1. Create a “short turn” version of the route that doesn’t stray too far from the city line. Some trips would end at the Burien Transit Center and others end closer to Seattle (possibly at the layover space at 15th Ave SW and SW Roxbury in White Center)
  2. Find a way to use some of the $3M in Prop. 1 “regional partnership” funds to partner with Burien or the County, though it’s not clear that additional service on the 120 is the highest priority for those funds
  3. Convince Burien to provide matching funds for the rest of the route
  4. Annex White Center (!)

Of all of these, the first is probably the most straightforward. Burien City Manager Kamuron Gurol told me via email that his constituents had not expressed significant desire for more service on the 120, but were instead focused on the potential loss of service on the commuter express routes 121 and 122, both of which were spared the axe in the recently-improved budget.

A shortened 120 is not optimal. Even setting aside potential rider confusion, a 120 that terminated at, say, Westwood Village would be roughly 1/3 shorter than the normal 120. Nonetheless, it may be the path of least resistance for providing more frequent service between the Delridge area and Downtown.

And thus we get our first lesson in the interesting budget and planning games that will start to happen in the wake of Prop. 1. The chess board just got a little more complicated.

Mercer Island Station Shows How Bus-Rail Connections Ought to Work

mercer_island_busway
Mercer Island Transitway Concept

Sound Transit recently held an open house on Mercer Island to discuss some updates to the Mercer Island Link station. I wasn’t able to attend, but the materials are available online.

The meeting focused on two updates to the station design for riders arriving by car or by bus. First, ST is considering a second parking lot near the community center to handle overflow traffic from the always-packed Mercer Island park-and-ride. Many Mercer Island residents have been adamant that they will only use the station if they are given ample, free parking, and ST is working to find ways to accommodate them.

Second, staff showed a new concept for handling buses. We’ve known for a while that Sound Transit plans to remove the bus ramps at I-90 and Rainier, meaning that all Seattle-bound riders in the I-90 corridor will be transferred to Link, either at Mercer Island or South Bellevue. Therefore it’s important that the bus connection at those stations is as painless as possible (see Adam’s posts here and here for more on good and bad bus-rail transfers).

Previous concepts for bus transfers at MIS involved a loop through the neighborhood before returning to I-90, not too different from today’s configuration.  Neighborhood feedback sent those concepts back to the drawing board, and everyone is better off for it.  Since buses will no longer continue on to Seattle, the whole configuration can be rethought around the new goal of providing a great transfer experience. The latest setup converts 80th Ave, which straddles the freeway and is adjacent to the Link station, into a transitway. Buses will exit the Westbound HOV lane, drop passengers off in front of the station, and get right back on the freeway going the other way, like a bucket brigade. Riders will be deposited directly atop the escalator for the Link station. This should make for very smooth bus-rail connections.  By planning for the connection at this early stage, Sound Transit has created a much improved rider experience.

So will all existing I-90 buses take advantage of this new transitway? It’s not clear yet. The diagram above mentions two lines in particular, ST 554 and Metro 216. I asked Metro’s Jeff Switzer why those routes were singled out, since there are many more that will be affected when buses no longer go past Mercer Island, and he said that while “the legend does not accurately reflect the specific routes” and would be corrected, Metro consulted with ST to provide low- and high-end estimates for the number of buses that would serve the station into the future. In other words, the service concept was vetted against current and future demand, but the routes themselves are still TBD.

Switzer added that no decisions have been made with respect to specific service changes on I-90 once East Link opens, and that a robust public outreach process would be included as the opening day got closer. One can imagines a similar process to the recent ST/Metro U-Link workshops occurring sometime around 2020.  This will be a great opportunity to re-think the Eastside network all-up.  If one-seat rides into Seattle are no longer be possible via I-90, those buses might be re-configured as all-day connectors to Link stations and other regional destinations, providing enhanced regional mobility.

Cost-Effective ST3 Options on the Eastside

A ST 535 waits to re-enter I-405 (WhenEliseSings/Flickr)

What would Sound Transit do in East King County if it were trying to maximize the effectiveness of the ST3 package? How many transit riders could be served within the constraints of a likely ST3 package?

I’ve borrowed Martin Duke’s calculation of a $2.6 billion “budget” for East King. Martin estimates this from the $15 billion request to the Legislature, converted to $10 billion in 2014 dollars (to align with the corridor study cost methodology). With $800 million committed to completing East Link to Redmond, that leaves $1.8 billion for other projects.

The approach is to calculate cost per rider (using the mid-range of estimates from the corridor studies). The options are ranked and the best are selected, unless they duplicate an already selected option. Many of the options are close substitutes, so it makes sense to select only one. For instance, 405 BRT occupies three of the top six slots, but only the highest ranked of these is selected. I ignore other options which were not reviewed in the corridor studies (such as the bridge to Sand Point).

Cost per rider is a somewhat problematic metric, in that it fails to acknowledge existing ridership. The studies don’t break out incremental ridership estimates. But it won’t affect our ordering of projects unless one project has much more incremental ridership than another. (More ambitious projects may have greater incremental ridership because they represent a larger change versus the status quo, so a total ridership approach does bias the analysis toward smaller projects somewhat).

I’ve also broken out the incremental costs and ridership of 405 “full” options against “phased” options. Viewed separately, the incremental investments for the full build-out do not perform well (highlighted in green in the table).

Within those constraints, it’s possible to get quite a lot of service on the Eastside. About 50,000 riders would be served on four BRT routes (in bold red in table). Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Renton and the 405 corridor would all see local benefits.

The winners are:

  • BRT University District to Redmond via 520. At only $55 million, it’s by far the cheapest option on the table. On the other hand, with so little investment, it’s only modestly superior to today’s express bus service between Redmond and downtown Seattle.
  • BRT University District to Kirkland via 520 and the Eastside Rail Corridor. At only 8,000 riders, it’s still a relative bargain because it costs only $210 million.
  • BRT 405 Phased Build-out with trunk and branch service. The phased build-out is much more cost-effective, and realistic, than the full build-out which assumes a large unfunded investment by WSDOT. The trunk-and-branch service enjoys 20% better ridership than the single-route service with no additional capital costs. However, there are about $20 million per year in increased operating costs to consider, so the single-route phased build-out remains in play.
  • BRT Kirkland to Issaquah via the Eastside Rail Corridor, Bellevue Way, I-90 and via mixed traffic from central Issaquah to the Highlands. This is lower in the rank ordering, but makes the cut because we’re not selecting duplicate services on the same corridors. Service to the Highlands is in mixed traffic. But that is relatively inexpensive for 2,000 additional riders, so it improves the overall cost-effectiveness of this service.

Continue reading “Cost-Effective ST3 Options on the Eastside”

SDOT Hires Transit Division Director

Nunes-Oeno with CM Bagshaw (Wedgwood Community Council Photo)
Nunes-Ueno (center) with CM Bagshaw in 2012 (Wedgwood Community Council Photo)

Proposition 1’s November passage greatly deepened SDOT’s role in transit service planning, with the new Transit Division being created to oversee the intergovernmental purchase of service hours and also to formalize SDOT’s role in transit improvements more generally.  Yesterday, Mayor Murray and SDOT Director Kubly announced the division’s first Director, Paulo Nunes-Ueno.

Longtime transit and bicycle advocates will recognize Nunes-Ueno, who has been a visible and vocal advocate for smarter transportation policies. The NYU and UW graduate has spent his career primarily overseeing employer programs and policies, first with Metro working as a Commute Trip Reduction Program Manager, and for the last 7 years as Director of Transportation and Sustainability for Seattle Children’s, one of the country’s best employer transportation programs. He was also instrumental in Children’s sponsorship of Pronto Cycleshare.

As an aside, Nunes-Ueno will now work for the city that once fined him $500/day for the mildest possible form of urbanist civil disobedience, defying city policies by installing a sandbox for his kids in the public planting strip in between the sidewalk and his neighborhood street.

In private conversations with SDOT staff, we have been encouraged by the rigor and thoughtfulness with which they’re approaching the Prop 1 spending, and we are hopeful that Nunes-Ueno will be an adept administrator who enables his staff to do good, and assuredly contentious, work. Prop 1 service hours begin in June 2015.

The city’s media release is after the jump.

Continue reading “SDOT Hires Transit Division Director”

City to Study Monorail ORCA Integration

monorail
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.

News Roundup: Losing Less Money

6083200583_31c1fecfbc_z
Late Empire Builders at Spokane (Photo by Loco Steve — Flickr)

This is an open thread.

The Human Cost of Efficiency

Atomic Taco/Flickr

Last week the Times reported on the Washington Department of Labor & Industries fining Metro $3,500 for unacceptable work conditions, specifically too much pressure to skip bathroom breaks to stay on schedule.

Transit operators and their union have long griped about inadequate bathroom breaks and the lack of access to toilets…  Some have resorted to adult diapers or urinating in a bottle… maintenance crews replace 60 driver seats per year that have been soaked by urine, according to Local 587 Vice President Neal Safrin…

Desmond said he’ll re-emphasize that the driver rule book allows restroom breaks even when buses are behind schedule.

But he also acknowledges there is self-imposed pressure among transit operators to skip restroom breaks so they avoid being late and upsetting passengers. Beyond that, many drivers feel loyalty to their regular customers and want to make sure they get to work on time.

Longtime readers will recall increased “scheduling efficiencies” as part of the 2009 audit results, which said “that the use of scheduling software could avoid deadhead runs, shorten layovers, and thus save between $12m and $19m a year.” Even at the time, our commenters worried about the effect on driver health.

This sorry episode illustrates that there are many ways to cut a budget. These cuts are often grouped together into “efficiencies,” which has the connotation of cutting waste. And everyone is for reducing waste! But the real effect on riders and other stakeholders varies widely.

There are genuine freebies, like negotiating a better price for buses or eliminating a program that everyone agrees isn’t working. There are false economies, like deferring capital expenditures that would save future operating costs (speed and reliability improvements) or maintenance costs (new buses). And then there are cuts that, while helping to keep buses on the road, also make the system a worse one in more subtle ways. In this particular case, Metro is putting its drivers in normatively awful working conditions, also making buses less reliable. Earlier in the financial crisis, King County cut back on shelter cleaning and customer information. Again, the degradation is hard to quantify but nonetheless real.

It is a genuinely difficult dilemma to trade off bus service hours against these other values. However, we shouldn’t allow standards in these areas to continually ratchet downwards as we accept dirty stops and mistreated drivers as the new normal.

ACTION ALERT: Sand Point Crossing

Seattle Subway Logo

This summer Sound Transit kicked off it’s Long Range Plan (LRP) update, and asked for your opinion. As part of the process many people reached out to Sound Transit and asked that a Sand Point Crossing be included. In fact respondents asked for a Sand Point Crossing more than all other new corridors combined. According to section 5.3.2 of the LRP:

The majority of comments related to a new corridor urged Sound Transit to study a new crossing of Lake Washington between Sand Point and Kirkland. In many cases, specific station locations and routes were suggested. In addition, commenters felt that Sound Transit should analyze a floating rail bridge, floating tunnel, and suspension bridge from Sand Point to Kirkland to supplement the analysis in the UW to Kirkland to Redmond portion of the Central and East HCT Corridor Study.

First off, thanks to everyone that took the effort to tell ST what you thought. Secondly, thanks to Mayor Murray and CM O’Brien for listening and submitting the Sand Point Crossing (Corridor 14 – UW to Sand Point to Kirkland to Redmond) for inclusion in the Long Range Plan.

That said, late yesterday afternoon Seattle Subway learned that at this Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting, there will be a move to remove Corridor 14 from the LRP. Unfortunately, after all the work people put in to get Sand Point into the Long Range Plan, it could be removed with no guarantees that it will be studied in the future. In fact Sound Transit’s own Draft EIS explicitly excluded it from further study as part of S.R. 520 corridor studies. The fact that it is the single most asked for corridor and being targeted for removal does not bode well for it’s inclusion in future studies. Thursday isn’t the last chance to save the Sand Point Crossing study, there will a full board meeting on the 18th. However as they will be voting on an already prepared plan at that time, Thursday is our best chance. [Edit] Clarification:  On Thursday 12/4 the Executive Committee will consider amendments to the LRP.  On 12/18 the Board will vote on the amendments.

It is Seattle Subway’s stance that not only does a Sand Point Crossing deserve study, but that people will understandably call into question the entire Long Range Plan outreach process if the most asked for new corridor is removed for political reasons. What is the point of people participating in the process if the board is going to throw out the most asked for consideration?

Please reach out to the Sound Transit Board and tell them (again!) that you want the Sand Point Crossing to stay in the Long Range Plan! Click here to email the board.

#BlackFridayParking

blackfridayThere’s a fine internet cottage industry taking photos of buses under certain conditions (generally at off-peak times and near the end of a route) to show that they are “empty.”  To flip the script a bit, Strong Towns asked people to photograph the parking lot of their local shopping center or mall during Black Friday — which should be the highest parking demand of the year.

Now obviously there’s no way to verify that these photos are of reasonable dates and times for Black Friday peak demand, local economic conditions may vary, some stores are simply struggling, and there are almost certainly lots elsewhere in the nation that are full. Nevertheless, the minimum sizes of these lots are often mandated by local regulations, resulting in astounding wastes of space most of the time.